Calls for war crimes tribunal as Ukraine finds more bodies at mass grave site

Dressed in white protective suits and wearing rubber gloves, Ukrainian emergency workers on Saturday dug up more bodies from a wooded burial site in territory recently recaptured from Russian forces while townspeople looked for dead relatives. Ukraine says hundreds are buried at the site discovered this week, including at least 17 Ukrainian servicemen found in a mass grave on Friday and others who may be civilians buried in individual graves marked with flimsy wooden crosses. The causes of death have not yet been established, although residents say some of the graves near the town of Izium were of people who died in an airstrike. What did they find?Ukrainian authorities have said at least one of the bodies had tied hands and rope marks on the neck. Moscow has not commented on the discovery of the graves. It has regularly denied committing atrocities in the war or targeting civilians. Ukrainian servicemen stand near workers carrying bodies that were were unearthed from graves in Izium, Kharkiv region, northeastern Ukraine, on 16 September 2022. Source: AAP / EPAReuters saw workers carefully exhume at least five graves with shovels while police experts and investigators documented the findings on camera and inspected the bodies on the sandy soil between trunks of pine trees. Investigators said the condition of the teeth showed some of the people were elderly. “Exhumations are under way. Their identities are currently not known,” said Roman Kasianenko, a regional prosecutor. He said three bodies dug up on Friday had been identified.Clutching a neatly written list of names and numbers, resident Volodymyr Kolesnyk stepped between graves looking for relatives he said were killed in an airstrike on an apartment building shortly before the town fell in April, as the invaders swept through the northeastern region of Kharkiv. What happened before the discovery?Ukraine last week took back dozens of towns and villages in the area in a surprise counterattack.Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov on Friday said he had been aware of mass deaths when shells hit a five-storey apartment block shortly before the Russian occupation. In May, a Ukrainian military official said more than 40 people died in an attack in the town. Reuters could not immediately verify details of the attack or who buried the bodies.Graves marked with numbersMr Kolesnyk said he knew his relatives had been taken to the burial site and were in some of the graves marked with numbers but that he had not dared visit while the town was under occupation. He paused before a cross marked with the number 199 and, after checking the list, carefully hung a small sign on it bearing the name of Yurii Yakovenko, his cousin. Cross number 164, he said, was his cousin’s wife. And 174 is the cousin’s mother, Mr Kolesnyk’s aunt. The list was given to him by a local funeral company that dug the graves, he said. “They buried the bodies in bags, without coffins, without anything. I was not allowed here at first. They [Russians] said it was mined and asked to wait. And there was a lot of them in the woods, so it was scary to come here,” Mr Kolensk told Reuters. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday said officials have found evidence of torture on exhumed bodies, adding that around 10 torture sites have been found across the territory liberated this month. How is it being reported in Russia?The head of the Russia-installed administration that abandoned the northeastern area around Izium last week accused Ukrainians of staging atrocities. “I have not heard anything about burials,” Vitaly Ganchev told Rossiya-24 state television.Moscow is facing fresh outrage from the West after the discovery of the mass grave. But Mr Putin remained steadfast, saying his war against Russia’s Western-leaning neighbour was proceeding according to plan. “The plan is not subject to adjustment,” Mr Putin said Friday. “Our offensive operations in Donbas itself do not stop. They are going at a slow pace… The Russian army is occupying newer and newer territories.”EU calls for war crimes tribunal amid global outrageThe EU presidency on Saturday called for the establishment of an international tribunal for war crimes after new mass graves were found in Ukraine.”In the 21st century, such attacks against the civilian population are unthinkable and abhorrent,” said Jan Lipavsky, foreign minister of the Czech Republic which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.”We must not overlook it. We stand for the punishment of all war criminals,” he added in a message on Twitter.”I call for the speedy establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have joined a growing chorus of outrage in western countries at reports by Ukrainian officials that they had uncovered a mass grave just outside the city containing hundreds of bodies.”I condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed in Izyum, Ukraine, under Russian occupation,” Mr Macron tweeted.Those responsible “will have to answer for their acts. There is no peace without justice,” he added.Mr Blinken said that Russia was behaving “horrifically” and was likely responsible for war crimes.”This is part, horrifically, of an ongoing story whenever we see the Russian tide recede from the parts of Ukraine that it’s occupied,” he said. “We see what’s left in his wake. And this latest discovery of apparently 440 mass graves in Izium is a reminder of that,” he said, referring to the eastern city where Ukrainian forces have driven out Russian invaders.Mr Blinken called on Ukrainians to maintain evidence to document atrocities, saying, “There needs to be accountability.””In many instances, these will amount to war crimes, which I think is the appropriate frame through which to look at this,” he said.