Police investigating killings of 12,000 Ukrainians in war

File photo: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, stands on the side of a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022. Police are investigating the killings of more than 12,000 Ukrainians nationwide in the war Russia is waging, the national police chief said Monday. In the Kyiv region near Bucha, authorities showed several victims whose hands were tied behind their backs.

File photo: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, stands on the side of a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022. Police are investigating the killings of more than 12,000 Ukrainians nationwide in the war Russia is waging, the national police chief said Monday. In the Kyiv region near Bucha, authorities showed several victims whose hands were tied behind their backs. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

The lush green beauty of a pine forest and singing birds contrasted with the violent deaths of newly discovered victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine, as workers exhumed bodies from another burial site near Bucha on Kyiv’s outskirts.

The hands of several victims were tied behind their backs. The gruesome work of digging up the remains coincided with the Ukrainian police chief’s report that authorities have opened criminal investigations into the killings of more than 12,000 people during Russia’s war.

Workers in white hazmat suits and wearing masks used shovels to exhume bodies from the soil of the forest, marking each section with small yellow numbered signs on the ground. The bodies, covered in cloth and dirt, attracted flies and were dragged by rope.

“Shots to the knees tell us that people were tortured,” said Andriy Nebytov, head of the Kyiv regional police. “The hands tied behind the back with tape say that people had been held (hostage) for a long time and (enemy forces) tried to get any information from them.”

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Since the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region at the end of March, the authorities say they have uncovered the bodies of 1,316 people.

One site reporters saw near Bucha on Monday was a mass grave, where the horrors of the killings shocked the world after a regional Russian withdrawal earlier in the war. Reporters on Monday saw a mass grave just behind a trench dug out for a military vehicle. The bodies of seven civilians were retrieved from the mass grave. Two of the bodies were found with their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the knees and the head, Nebytov said.

National police chief Igor Klimenko told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Monday that criminal investigations into the deaths of more than 12,000 Ukrainians included some found in mass graves. He said the mass killings of people resulted from snipers firing from tanks and armored personnel carriers. Bodies were found lying on streets and in their homes, as well as in mass graves. He didn’t specify how many of the more than 12,000 were civilian and military.

Complete information about the number of bodies in mass graves or elsewhere isn’t known, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the American Jewish Committee on Sunday. He cited the killings of two children who died with their parents in the basement of an apartment building in Mariupol in a Russian bombing.

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust, asked:

“Why is this happening in 2022? This is not the 1940s. How could mass killings, torture, burned cities, and filtration camps set up by the Russian military in the occupied territories resembling Nazi concentration camps come true?”

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