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Signs of massacre in Bucha spark calls for war crimes probes

Footage taken on April 3 shows mass graves and bodies of civilians lying in the streets of Bucha, a city in Ukraine near Kyiv. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)
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Ukrainian officials said they have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to visit the mass graves seen in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv, so experts can gather evidence of possible Russian war crimes.

The request comes as Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said the discovery of the graves — made as Ukrainian troops recaptured territory and Russian forces pulled back from towns they had seized in the war’s earliest days — could “only be described as genocide.”

Condemnation of the alleged assault on civilians resounded around the world, with numerous countries demanding investigations and accountability. Russia’s Defense Ministry, however, questioned the authenticity of some of the photos from Bucha.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in a tweet Sunday accusing Russia of carrying out a “massacre,” requested that the ICC visit the scene “to collect all the evidence of these war crimes” and use it to prosecute those responsible.

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian attacks on Ukraine amounted to a genocide.

“This is genocide,” Zelensky said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “We are the citizens of Ukraine; we have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said “you can’t help but see these images [out of Bucha] as a punch to the gut,” but he avoided calling it genocide.

“The most important thing is we can’t become numb to this. We can’t normalize this,” Blinken said, noting that the United States will help ensure that relevant institutions have the evidence they need to determine what happened.

Bodies, rubble line the streets of Bucha following Russian retreat

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on the same show, said the Bucha scenes reflected “brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades. And it’s horrific and it’s absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “Russia’s despicable attacks against innocent civilians in Irpin and Bucha are yet more evidence that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his army are committing war crimes in Ukraine.” Irpin, another suburb of Kyiv, also was the scene of fierce battles.

Britain also called for a probe and said it would support any investigations by the ICC. “As Russian troops are forced into retreat, we are seeing increasing evidence of appalling acts by the invading forces in towns such as Irpin and Bucha,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Sunday.

“Their indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians during Russia’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine must be investigated as war crimes,” Truss said, adding that Britain would “not allow Russia to cover up their involvement in these atrocities through cynical disinformation.”

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Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry reposted a Telegram message in its channel that claimed some of the footage of bodies in Bucha was “fake” and accused Ukrainian forces of killing people by shelling Bucha.

Ukraine’s leaders forcefully condemned what they characterized as Russian war crimes in Bucha. Klitschko, the Kyiv mayor, told Germany’s Bild news outlet on Sunday that Putin was responsible for “cruel war crimes,” including the shooting of civilians with their hands bound, in Bucha.

Bucha’s mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, told The Washington Post that about 270 residents had been buried in two mass graves, and he estimated that 40 people were lying dead in the streets. Some, he said, had been bound and executed — shot in the back of the head.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Sunday that it had “documented several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine.”

In Bucha, the human rights advocacy group said, it spoke to a teacher who reported witnessing Russian forces executing a man on March 4.

Video posted to social media Saturday and verified by The Post showed at least nine people, including one child, lying on the street of a residential area. They appear to be dead.

U.S. considers tougher Russia sanctions after evidence of Bucha killings

Condemnation of the scenes rippled through Europe.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said she was “appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing” and called for an “independent investigation.”

“Perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable,” she said.

European Council President Charles Michel said the European Union would support Ukraine in gathering evidence to pursue charges against Russia in international courts. He said he was “shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region.”

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the images from Bucha. He said it is “essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the images “unbearable” and said those responsible should be held accountable. French President Emmanuel Macron said that “Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes.”

Others called for fresh sanctions against Russia and more support for Ukraine.

Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, said Russian troops committed “genocide” and “war crimes” in Bucha that “must be met with new sanctions & increased military assistance to Ukraine.” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis argued that the E.U. should stop buying Russian oil and gas.

Amy B Wang, David L. Stern, Meg Kelly, Claire Parker and Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.