what we know about the mass grave of Izioum, where 445 graves were discovered in the forest

what we know about the mass grave of Izioum, where 445 graves were discovered in the forest

From the first days of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, in February, the city of Izium was the target of bombardments. Occupied since the spring by Vladimir Putin’s army, this strategic locality in the Donbass, at the crossroads of the roads linking Kharhiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, was liberated by the Ukrainian forces on Saturday 10 September. A week later, kyiv invited the international media to witness the horror: hundreds of graves, discovered in the forest that borders the city. As Ukrainian investigators began to exhume the bodies, here is what we know about these macabre discoveries.

A cemetery with 445 graves has been unearthed

As early as Thursday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the discovery of what he described as “pauper’s grave” in Izioum, a town which, before the war, housed around 50,000 inhabitants. In a forest bordering the locality, the soldiers discovered 445 wooden crosses, corresponding to as many graves, noted Radio France journalists on the spot.

A few meters away, another tomb is marked by a cross, on which we can read the following inscription: “Ukrainian army, 17 people. Izium, from the morgue”, reported AFP journalists on the spot. If this grave contains the bodies of 17 soldiers “buried together”, “most of the civilians were buried individually”told the Guardian (link in English)the prosecutor of the Kharkhiv region, on which Izyum depends, Oleksandr Filchakov.

However, the identity of most of these corpses remains unknown. Asked by the British daily, the director of a local funeral home explained that the Russian authorities had asked her to write numbers on the graves, and to record the corresponding names in a register. Concerning the burial conditions, she mentions “a disaster” and told the Guardian how the bodies had to be buried under the bombardments, before moving the bodies again. The graves were dug by Russian forces who took the city in March and occupied it until last week, said government official for the search for missing persons, Oleg Kotenko.

Local authorities denounce acts of torture against civilians

According to the regional governor, Oleg Synegoubov, “450 bodies of civilians bearing traces of violent death and torture” were found on this site. “There are corpses with their arms tied behind their backs, another with a rope around their necks. It is certain that 99% of the people here succumbed to violent deaths”, does he have said Friday.

According to local authorities, some bodies have “hands tied”and of “Obviously these people were tortured and executed.”

Ukrainian police chief Igor Klymenko announced the discovery of 10 “torture chambers” in localities taken back from the Russians in the Kharkiv region, including six in Izium and two in the town of Balakliïa, about fifty kilometers north-east of Izium, in the direction of Karkhiv. In front of the franceinfo camera, a civilian recounts having been tortured, because his brother is a soldier: “They made me hold two cables connected to an electric generator. The faster it rotated, the stronger the discharge”.

War in Ukraine: in Izioum, questions after chilling discoveries

The victims also perished in the bombardments

On Thursday, a regional police official, Serguiy Botvinov, told Sky News television that some of the deceased had been shot and killed, while others had died in shelling. Attacked by Russian forces from February 28, the city was the subject of intense strikes for several weeks. AFP journalists who visited Izioum on Monday September 12 saw the scars of this operation aimed at taking the city: ruins, houses and public buildings destroyed, carcasses of armored vehicles strewn on the roads and everywhere, the trace of fights.

War in Ukraine: Izium, a city taken over by the Ukrainian army from the Russians
France 2

Here, there are many children among the bodies”, said Friday regional governor Oleg Synegoubov. According to him, most of the victims were killed during the Russian bombardments at the start of the invasion.

Oleg Kotenko, government official for the search for missing persons, said that “the graves that do not bear names are those of people [trouvés] in the street”. “There are many people who died of hunger”, he said, quoted by AFP. “This part of the city was isolated, without supplies. People were blocked, nothing worked”.

The bodies will be exhumed and autopsied after the opening of investigations

The exhumation of these bodies should make it possible to determine the causes of death of these people. “200 agents and experts” are working on the site, Oleg Synegoubov said again on Friday, explaining that “the bodies will be sent for autopsy… Every death will be investigated and become evidence of Russia’s war crimes in international courts.” he added.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, several people, suspected of having buried the bodies in a hurry, have been arrested, reports Radio France. According to the prosecutor, it is about inhabitants of the city who would have improvised gravediggers in the service of the Russians during the occupation of Izioum, to “clean” the bombarded dwellings. Otherwise, there will be an investigation into the corpses of these 17 Ukrainian soldiers also found in this forest, a few meters from those of civilians, continues Radio France.

The scientific police at work in Izioum, Friday September 16, 2022. (BORIS LOUMAGNE / RADIO FRANCE)

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, for its part, immediately affirmed its intention to send a team to Izioum to “determine the circumstances of the death of these people”.

Ukraine denounces the responsibility of the Russian army

“For months, terror, violence, torture and mass murder reigned supreme in the occupied territories” reacted on Twitter on Friday, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak. Volodymyr Zelensky pointed to the responsibility of the Russian army. “Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers. Deprived of all that is human”he launchedyears a video posted Friday on Telegram. “There is also evidence that the Russian soldiers, whose positions were not far from this place, shot at the buried people just for fun,” added Volodymyr Zelensky, promising “a terribly just punishment” to those responsible.

Russia has not responded to kyiv’s accusations

ofafter the inhabitants met by Radio France, “there were no mass murders committed by the Russians in Izium. No summary executions, as in Irpin or Boutcha, north of kyiv.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not react to the discovery of these graves. He said the operations were continuing despite major counter-offensives by the Ukrainian army in the northeast and south of the country. “The kyiv authorities announced that they had started an active counter-offensive. Well, we’ll see how it ends.” simply commented Vladimir Putin.

According to him, the Kremlin’s key objective remains “the liberation of the entire territory of Donbass”.

The EU says it is “deeply shocked”

Russia is acting “appalling way and it shows and repeats (…). We see what she leaves in her wake”commented in Washington the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken.

The EU also said “deeply shocked”. “Russia, its political leaders and all those implicated in the continued violations of international law and international humanitarian law in Ukraine will be held accountable”said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, in a press release.

Same story in France: on Twitter, President Emmanuel Macron condemned “with the greatest firmness the atrocities committed in Izium, Ukraine, under Russian occupation”.

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