KYIV, Ukraine – Torture rooms in the basements of police precincts and school buildings. Witness statements of abuse, humiliation and murder. Seven foreign medical students from Sri Lanka in custody were found alive and freed. A forest full of graves.
On thousands of square miles of land newly reclaimed by the Ukrainian army in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Accusations of Russian atrocities by Ukrainian officials came Saturday as Ukraine stepped up calls for a global response. Many of the claims have yet to be independently verified.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the excavation of 440 graves in the renovated city of Izium, the largest mass grave discovered to date, is continuing and he warned that it is too early to say exactly. how many people were buried there or how they were. died. But local authorities say the majority of those displaced from the ground have suffered violent deaths.
The United Nations said it was sending a team to assist with the investigation, while the Biden administration warned the Kremlin against using illegal weapons to reverse a successful Ukrainian military counterattack.
In an interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes” scheduled to air Sunday, President Biden said that the US response to any such use of weapons would be ” consequential”, although he did not provide details.
Across a vast front that has been reshaped after a Ukrainian offensive pushed Russian troops out of the northeast – but a frontline still stretches for more than 1,000 miles – Ukraine continues to try to exploit the anarchy. Russian riots but claimed no significant movement. Russia’s offensive operations appear to be limited to a small area of the Donetsk region around the city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and commanders believe Bakhmut is in an increasingly bad position as Russian forces attack from the east and southeast in an attempt to cut off the country’s supplies.
Soldiers on the front lines around the city claim that the Russian force in the area is mainly composed of troops from the Wagner Corporation, a private military company with ties to the Kremlin. Wagner’s military has fought in places like Syria and Libya – countries with a history of Russian intervention – and Ukrainian soldiers say they are deploying Russian prisoners to the front lines.
The Ukrainian military says that the fact that Ukrainian forces are being attacked by prisoners – not just the usual Russian ranks – shows why there seems to be a constant supply of troops around Bakhmut attacking. them, the Ukrainian military said.
On Tuesday, a video posted online and analyzed by The New York Times showed the Wagner Group promising convicts they would be released from prison in return for a six-month combat tour. in Ukraine. It is not clear when the video was shot.
Even as Ukraine’s security services worked to ensure towns and villages were littered with mines left by Russian forces during their chaotic and hasty retreat, teams of Ukrainian investigators launched to Take witness statements about atrocities, gather evidence and start building war crime cases.
Ukrainian officials say they have found at least 10 torture chambers, two in the town of Balakliia, including one in a police station.
Serhii Bolvinov, chief investigator of Kharkiv regional police, said: “During the inspection of the building, we discovered that wires leading to video cameras were hidden in the rooms where the hostages were located. detained. “Everybody, including the women, had to sleep on the floor, and during the interrogations they were tortured with electric currents.”
He said police had confirmed the death of at least one person as a result of torture.
As with many emerging claims, some reports could not be immediately verified. But evidence of many crimes has been made public, and survivors are now being interviewed as potential witnesses.
They include seven citizens of the Republic of Sri Lanka, students of the Kupyansk Medical College. Back in March, they were captured by Russian soldiers and then detained in a basement, according to Zelensky, who spoke about their case in his nightly address to the nation.
With Russia suffering military setbacks in recent weeks and the Kremlin increasingly isolated diplomatically, the Biden administration has warned Putin against using illegal weapons, marking the second time. Washington issued such a warning. Last March, Mr. Biden said “we will respond” if Mr. Putin – then frustrated by defeat in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and by lack of progress in the war – used such weapons. .
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden said that Russia’s use of nuclear or non-conventional weapons to try to turn the tide of the war in Moscow’s favor would “change the course of war like no other.” something since the Second World War.”
This time, the warning comes as Russian forces are reeling from a battlefield retreat and as Mr Putin faces increasingly acute questions at home about how he has conducted himself. fight.
Putin’s two most important strategic partners, India and China, both raised concerns about the war this past week, piercing the Kremlin’s message that Russia will not be isolated as a result of the war. .
Some Western officials have expressed concern that the more cornered Putin feels, the more likely he is to switch to a unique weapon such as a tactical weapon or a high-energy nuclear weapon. low yield, which can be fired at relatively short distances, in contrast to “strategic nuclear weapons” which can be launched at much longer distances.
In April, the CIA director warned of how Mr Putin could turn to such weapons in “desperation”.
The director, William J. Burns, said it was likely the United States remained “very concerned,” although he said that, at that stage of the war, Washington had seen no “factual evidence” of sorts of any kind. military deployment. or the movement of a weapon to suggest that such a move is imminent.
Despite the failures and loss of tens of thousands of Russian troops in Ukraine, Putin shows no signs of changing course. On Friday, he threatened to escalate his forces’ attacks.
During a press conference in Uzbekistan at the conclusion of a regional meeting, Putin claimed that Ukraine was trying to carry out “terrorist acts” inside Russia and “damage its civilian infrastructure.” we”.
Ukraine sometimes strikes fuel and military targets on Russia’s borders but denies targeting civilian infrastructure, and Putin has offered no evidence to back up his claim.
Zelensky sought to capture the country’s military advances to bolster the resolve of his Western allies, using them as proof that Ukraine was more than capable of building an effective defense system. but could also knock Russian forces out of the country and win the war.
In the area north of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces continue to consolidate their gains after a quick counterattack against the Russian army, according to the main Pentagon spokesman.
“In the north, what we assess is that the Ukrainians are consolidating their interests after recapturing significant territories, and the Russians are trying to fortify their defenses after being pushed back. ,” said spokesman Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder, told reporters Friday at the Pentagon.
“In the south, the Ukrainians continue to make what we judge to be deliberate, calculated movements as the Russians continue to try to keep that line,” he said.
Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged long-range strikes in southern Ukraine on Friday, bombing each other’s positions and inflicting massive damage.
The top two floors of the municipal administration building in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine occupied by the Russians, were reduced to rubble by a Ukrainian missile attack. According to the Russian news agency TASS, at least three people died. The Ukrainians credited the attack, saying it was an attempt to behead the leader of the occupied area.
“All the collaborators of the occupied Kherson region gathered there,” said Serhiy Khlan, a regional lawmaker. “When they all gathered, a ‘salutation’ from the Armed Forces of Ukraine came.”
Mr. Khlan warned civilians to stay away from government offices and military targets in Kherson, in case of further strikes.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine and Norimitsu Onishi from Montreal. John Ismay reporting contributions from Washington, and Oleksandr Chubko from Mykolaiv, Ukraine.