1,200 bodies found near kyiv in preparation for Russian offensive: Ukraine

Photo: AFP

Ukraine said on Sunday that he had found more than 1,200 bodies in the Kyiv region, scene of atrocities believed to have been committed during the Russian occupation last month, as people in the east of the country prepared – or fled – ahead of an expected massive offensive.

Heavy shelling hit Ukraine throughout the weekend, adding to mounting casualties six weeks after Russia invaded its neighbor.

Shelling killed two people in the northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday morning, regional governor Oleg Sinegoubov said, a day after 10 civilians, including a child, were killed in a shelling southeast of the city, according to authorities.

“The Russian army continues to wage war on civilians due to the lack of victories at the front,” Singoubov said on Telegram.

In Dnipro, a large industrial city of one million inhabitants, a rain of Russian missiles almost destroyed the local airport, causing an uncertain number of victims, local authorities said. He had already been struck on March 15.

President Volodymyr Zelensky again condemned the atrocities committed against civilians and, after speaking with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said they had agreed “that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished”.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova says the country is examining the alleged guilt of 500 senior Russian officials, including the president Vladimir Poutinefor thousands of war crimes.

And White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan promised that the United States would “work with the international community to ensure there is accountability” for what he called “mass atrocities”.

In the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an Easter ceasefire to pave the way for peace, denouncing a war in which “helpless civilians” suffered “heinous massacres and atrocious cruelty”.

– ‘Ready to fight’ –

The death toll has also risen in eastern Ukraine, where a missile strike on Friday killed 57 people at a railway station in the city of Kramatorsk, according to a revised tally published by Pavlo Kyrylenkothe governor of the Donetsk region.

Residents in the east have fled by the thousands as Ukraine prepares for “significant battles” against Moscow’s forces, Zelensky said.

“We see the preparations for important, some people say decisive, battles in the East,” he said Saturday during a press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl. Nehammer.

“We are ready to fight and seek in parallel to end this war through diplomacy.”

Launching his own diplomatic initiative, Nehammer said he would meet Putin on Monday in a move his spokesman said was coordinated with “Berlin, Brussels and…Zelensky.” Austria is a member of the European Union, but not of NATO.

Nehammer will be the first European leader to visit the Kremlin since the invasion began on February 24.

The UN said on Sunday that 4,232 civilian casualties had been recorded in Ukraine so far, with 1,793 killed and 2,439 injured.

Ukrainian prosecutor Venediktova said 1,222 bodies had been found in the Kyiv region alone so far.

At least two bodies were found in a manhole at a gas station on a highway outside kyiv on Sunday, an AFP journalist noted.

The bodies appeared to be wearing a mixture of civilian and military clothing.

A distraught woman peeked into the manhole before collapsing, clawing at the ground and moaning, “My son, my son.”

– Dire economic outlook –

The war also weighs heavily on the region’s economy. The World Bank released dire forecasts on Sunday, saying Ukraine’s economy would collapse 45.1% this year – a much bleaker prospect than it predicted just a month ago – while the Russia would experience an 11.2% drop in its GDP.

Ukraine on Sunday accused Kremlin propaganda, with the complicity of Russian media, of laying the groundwork for the bloody campaign.

“For many years, Russian political elites and propaganda have been inciting hatred, dehumanizing Ukrainians, maintaining Russian superiority and preparing the ground for these atrocities,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on Sunday.

But in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kuleba said he remains open to negotiating with the Russians.

“If sitting down with the Russians can help me prevent at least one massacre like in Bucha, or at least one more attack like in Kramatorsk, I must seize this opportunity,” he said.

Bucha – where authorities say hundreds of people were killed, some with their hands tied – has become synonymous with the brutality allegedly inflicted under Russian occupation.

– “The rockets continue to fly” –

The comments follow a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Hailing the country’s response to the Russian invasion, Johnson offered Ukraine armored vehicles and anti-ship missiles, crucial to ending Russia’s naval siege of Black Sea ports, to help ensure the country will never be invaded again.

In a bid to bolster international resolve against Moscow, US President Joe Biden is due to hold virtual talks with India’s Prime Minister on Monday. Narendra Modijust weeks after he said India had been “fragile” in its response to the invasion.

A US spokeswoman said the two leaders would consult on ways to offset “the destabilizing impact (of the war) on global food supplies and commodity markets”.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to discuss a sixth round of sanctions, even as divisions over a ban on Russian gas and oil imports threaten to soften their impact .

In new Russian strikes, Dnipro airport, between central and eastern Ukraine, was hit hard.

An AFP reporter saw black smoke in the sky above the facility, but a plane also took off later on Sunday, suggesting its runway was still working.

– ‘New normal’ –

As Russian forces regroup in eastern and southern Ukraine, local officials are urging residents to flee before it’s too late.

Governor of Lugansk Serge Gayday said in a new video that civilians were afraid to flee the area after the Kramatorsk tragedy.

We evacuated “2,700 to 2,500 people a day, but now there are fewer and fewer,” he said.

“I’m sure 20-25%” of the region’s population is still there, he added.

“Unfortunately, sometimes we (them) just beg to come out of hiding because we know what’s coming next…” Russian forces, he said, “will destroy everything in their path.”

Meanwhile, a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry said authorities in kyiv and their Western allies continued to stage “monstrous and ruthless” provocations and murder of civilians in the self-declared People’s Republic of Lugansk, in the South-East.

(The article is written by AFP. Only the title has been changed.)

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