A view shows unidentified graves of civilians and Ukrainian soldiers in a cemetery in the retaken area of Izium. Evgeniy Maloletka/PA

Ukrainian official says 99% of bodies exhumed in Izyum have 'signs of violent death'

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said some of the remains exhumed included children and people who were likely tortured before dying.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 16th 2022, 10:50 PM

NINETY-NINE PERCENT of exhumed bodies had signs of violent death, Ukraine’s regional administration head said Friday of the mass burial site discovered after Kyiv’s forces recaptured the east Ukrainian town of Izyum.

“Among the bodies that were exhumed today, 99% showed signs of violent death,” Oleg Synegubov, head of Kharkiv regional administration, said on social media.

“There are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person is buried with a rope around his neck,” he added.

“Obviously, these people were tortured and executed.”

Earlier Friday, AFP journalists saw that at least one of the bodies uncovered at the burial site in a forest outside Izyum had bound hands.

It was not clear, given the condition of the body, whether the victim was wearing civilian clothes or a military uniform.

Kyiv officials said they had counted 450 graves at the mass burial site and found ten alleged “torture centres” after the Kharkiv region was recaptured from Russian invaders.

In the forest outside Izyum, AFP journalists saw graves topped with makeshift crosses and marked with numbers, with one inscription reading: “Ukrainian army, 17 people. Izyum morgue.”

“Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers,” said Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Some of the remains exhumed, he said, included children and people who were likely tortured before dying.

Moscow has been roundly condemned internationally for invading its neighbour, but Russian President Vladimir Putin today refused blame for the ongoing fighting.

“Unfortunately, just the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its rejection of the negotiating process, and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield,” he said.

“We will do our best to end this as soon as possible,” he added.

But this afternoon, he said there were no plans to adjust Russia’s military operations in Ukraine despite Kyiv’s counter-offensive.

“We are not in a hurry… there are no changes,” he said.

‘Not a time for war’: Modi

The Russian leader was speaking at a regional summit in Uzbekistan where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – leader of a nation with longstanding ties to Moscow – told Putin that now was “not a time for war”.

Yet the conflict continues. Kyiv’s forces have recovered a swathe of territory in recent days in a lightning counter-offensive in the east, recapturing several towns from Russian forces but also uncovering what they say is a grim legacy of occupation.

Police chief Igor Klymenko said they had found torture rooms in the town of Balakliya and elsewhere in Kharkiv, while presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said the Izyum mass grave site alone held at least 450 bodies.

“In the occupied territories, rampant terror, violence, torture and mass murders have been reigning for months,” Podolyak said.

On the main road from Izyum to Kharkiv, a small dirt road leads into a pine forest. On the right-hand side of the lane, about 100 metres into the trees, two men in white overalls were digging the sandy soil.

Soon they reached the first body, exhumed it and placed it in a white plastic body bag. As more bodies appeared, the strong smell of decay spread among the trees and rough wooden crosses.


Where identification had been possible, names were attached to the crosses along with dates between early March, when Izyum was still held by Ukraine, and early September, a period of Russian control.

On some of the graves, small offerings of flowers were placed in homage to the deceased.

According to Oleg Kotenko, the government official in charge of the search for missing persons nationwide, a family with a young child was buried there.

“They were killed. There are witnesses from the same building. They saw what happened and buried these people here,” he said.

According to Kotenko: “The graves without names are for those found dead in the street.”

The United Nations in Geneva said it hopes to send a team to determine the circumstances of the deaths in the forest graves.

“Our colleagues in Ukraine are following up on these allegations, and they are aiming at organising a monitoring visit to Izyum to determine the circumstances of the death of these individuals,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said.

She added that the team was hoping to visit the northeastern city “soon”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the discovery of the mass grave is a “reminder of why Ukraine needs our support and assistance”.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that it highlights how “Bucha was not an isolated incident”.

In April, a mass grave was discovered behind a church in Bucha, a north-western suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

He expressed concern that authorities could find “brutalised bodies, as was the case in in Bucha, where people had been tortured before they were killed”.

Coveney also warned that “other areas that have been liberated by Ukrainian forces are now showing similar horror stories”.

He added: “Countries like Ireland need to insist on international law applying and on Russia being held to account.”

Russia’s forces left Izium and other parts of the Kharkiv region last week amid a stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive.

While Coveney said these were “extraordinary gains” by the Ukrainian military, he warned that “it has exposed in town like Izium is the brutality of war and of what Russian forces, it seems, are responsible for in terms of the brutalisation of civilian populations”.

Russia has been accused of carrying out attacks on civilians that could amount to war crimes, notably in suburban towns outside the capital of Kyiv after fighting in March.

Dozens of civilians bearing signs of extrajudicial killings were found in places like Bucha, outside Kyiv, after they were recaptured by Ukraine’s forces earlier this year.

Atrocities condemned

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned what he described as the “atrocities” committed in Izyum.

“I condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed in Izyum, Ukraine, under Russian occupation,” he tweeted.

Those responsible “will have to answer for their acts. There is no peace without justice,” he added.

The killings were also condemned by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said the bloc was “deeply shocked” at the “inhuman behaviour by Russian forces”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday Russia was behaving “horrifically” and was likely responsible for war crimes.

German military revamp

The grim discoveries have coincided with fresh developments on the international front, including a White House announcement of a new package of up to $600 million in US military aid for Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded in Ukraine in February, the United States has provided Kyiv with more than $15 billion in military support, including long-range precision rocket systems.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that Europe must shoulder far more of NATO’s burden as he branded President Vladimir Putin’s Russia the “biggest threat” currently posed to the alliance.

“NATO remains responsible for the collective defence of the entire alliance with a focus on Europe. Credible deterrence remains the core element,” Scholz told army officers.

Germany was ready to take on a leading role in ensuring Europe’s security, Scholz said, vowing to turn the country’s armed forces into the “best-equipped” on the continent.

Haunted by two world wars, Germany has always trod lightly and quietly on the world stage when it comes to conflicts and armament.

Kyiv gained EU candidacy status in June, angering Moscow which has tried to retain political and military influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

‘New centres of power’

Many European countries have joined the United States in supplying Kyiv with advanced weapons, enabling its forces to push the Russians out of thousands of square kilometres of territory.

EU countries have also hit Russia with economic penalties.

Berlin, for example, on Friday took control of the German operations of Russian oil firm Rosneft to secure energy supplies disrupted by the invasion.

Rosneft’s German subsidiaries, which account for about 12% of oil refining capacity in the country, were placed under trusteeship of the Federal Network Agency, the economy ministry said.

The seizures come as Germany is scrambling to wean itself off its dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Moscow has stopped natural gas deliveries to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meanwhile called for a shake-up of the world order as they met with Asian leaders for a summit challenging Western influence.

Putin hailed what he called the growing influence of “new centres of power” at the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan.

© AFP 2022, with additional reporting from Diarmuid Pepper

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel