© Reuters. Ukrainian soldiers approach the Ukrainian flag in the village of Kozarovychi in the Kyiv region of Ukraine during the Russian invasion of Ukraine on April 2, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
(Adds Russia call for UN meeting; Guterres call for investigation; other details)
BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine on Sunday accused Russian troops of carrying out a “massacre” in the town of Butcha, while Western nations reacted to images of dead bodies and called for new sanctions on Moscow.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied Ukraine’s accusations, saying the display of images and photographs of the body in the Buddha’s statue was “another provocation” by the Ukrainian government.
Footage of the town, 37 kilometers (23 miles) northwest of central Kyiv, emerged after Ukraine said Saturday that its forces had regained control of the entire Kyiv region and liberated the city from Russian troops.
They have sparked outrage in Ukraine and abroad, raising the prospect of further Western sanctions, thereby putting pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Western countries have sought to isolate Russia economically and punish it for the invasion that began on February 24.
“The Bucha massacre was deliberate,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter (NYSE:).
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called the video “a punch,” while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock said Russia must pay for “war crimes”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would step up sanctions, as well as military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
“Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences,” German Chancellor Olaf Schultz said, adding that Western allies would agree on new sanctions in the coming days.
German Defense Minister Christina Lambrecht said the EU must discuss a ban on Russian gas imports – breaking Berlin’s earlier resistance to the idea of importing Russian energy under an embargo.
Russia has asked the UN Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss what Moscow called Bukha’s “provocation by Ukrainian militants”.
Moscow’s Defense Ministry described photos and videos of the city as “stage performances”.
Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and dismissed allegations of war crimes in what it called a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine. Ukraine claims it invaded without provocation.
On Saturday, Reuters saw bodies still lying on the street in a mass grave, while on Sunday, Butcha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk showed reporters two bodies with white cloths tied to their arms. , one of which appears to have been shot in the mouth.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Ukrainian troops found the bodies of women raped and set on fire, as well as the bodies of local officials and children.
The mayor of Butcha said 300 residents were killed during the month-long occupation by Russian troops.
Reuters could not immediately verify Arestovich and Fedoruk’s allegations.
Ukraine’s foreign minister has called on the International Criminal Court to gather evidence of what he called Russian war crimes, while the foreign ministers of France and Britain said their countries would support such an investigation.
However, legal experts say prosecuting Putin or other Russian leaders will face significant hurdles and could take years.
Human Rights Watch said it documented “several cases of Russian military violations of the laws of war” in Ukraine’s Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions.
Ukraine’s Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said prosecutors investigating possible Russian war crimes had found 410 bodies in towns near Kyiv, 140 of which had been examined.
Fight in multiple areas
Russia has withdrawn forces from the north threatening Kyiv, saying it intends to focus on eastern Ukraine.
Fighting was reported in several regions of Ukraine on Sunday.
The governor of the eastern Donetsk region said the shelling continued overnight and throughout the day. Russian shelling has killed seven people in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, according to the district attorney’s office.
The missile struck near the southern port of Odessa, where Russia claims it destroyed an oil refinery used by the Ukrainian military. The Odessa City Council said “essential infrastructure” was affected.
The Kremenchug refinery, 350 kilometers (220 miles) northeast of Odessa, was destroyed in another rocket attack on Saturday, Poltava Central Region Governor Dmytro Lunin said.
Two witnesses told Reuters that two explosions were heard on Sunday in the Russian town of Belgorod, on the border with Ukraine, days after Russian authorities accused Ukrainian troops of attacking a fuel depot there.
Ukraine evacuated 2,694 people on Sunday from conflict zones in the southeastern port of Mariupol and the Luhansk region, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk announced. She added that Ukrainian officials were in talks with Russia to allow multiple Red Cross buses into Mariupol.
The Red Cross abandoned the previous attempt due to safety concerns. Russia blamed the delay on the charity.
Mariupol is Russia’s main target in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine, where tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped for weeks without access to food and water.
While Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said talks would resume by videoconference on Monday, there has been little sign of a breakthrough in negotiating an end to the war.
Medinsky said that while Ukraine has been more realistic in agreeing to remain neutral, give up nuclear weapons, refrain from joining military blocs and refuse to set up military bases, it has made no progress on other key Russian demands.
“I repeat again and again: Russia’s position on Crimea and Donbass remains the same,” he said on Telegram.
Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014 and recognized the declarations of independence of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk republics in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which have revolted against the Kyiv regime.