A mass burial ground with about 440 individual graves has been found in Izium in the days since the city, in Ukraine’s northeast, was reclaimed from Russian forces in a lightning offensive last week, a senior Ukrainian police official told Sky News on Thursday.
Serhii Bolvinov, the head of the investigative department of the regional police force in Kharkiv, said the bodies would be exhumed and forensically examined as part of an investigation into whether Russian forces committed war crimes during their occupation.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine confirmed the discovery of the grave site in his nightly address on Thursday, saying “there should be more information, clear, verified information” after journalists visit the city on Friday.
“We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to,” he said, adding: “Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for that.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs who traveled to Izium with Mr. Zelensky on Wednesday, told the BBC on Thursday that about 1,000 dead bodies had been found in the city since it was liberated last week.
“We were shocked to see the destruction of the city,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We have found already, for now, around 1,000 dead bodies, so we must say that this tragedy is even worse than the tragedy in Bucha,” where retreating Russian forces left at least 458 bodies on the streets and in buildings, gardens and makeshift graves at the end of March. The New York Times documented the torture, rape and execution of civilians by Russian soldiers in Bucha, a town a few miles west of Kyiv, after Moscow abandoned its push to take the capital.
Mr. Bolvinov told Sky News that the grave site in Izium was “one of the biggest burials in one liberated city.” The Ukrainian authorities, he added, were aware of other burial sites in areas of the Kharkiv region that had been under Russian control.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office is already investigating possible war crimes in Zaliznychne, a recently liberated village in the region.
In August, the U.S. State Department and Yale University researchers said there were signs pointing to possible mass graves in some areas of the eastern Donetsk region, near sites that were part of a “filtration system” used for processing detainees and prisoners.