KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Ukrainian police on Saturday reported finding three bodies with their hands tied behind their backs as Russia continued shelling the east and Washington slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “depravity.”
The bodies were found on Friday in a pit near Bucha, a town close to Kyiv that has become synonymous with allegations of Russian war crimes.
“The victims’ hands were tied, cloths were covering their eyes and some were gagged. There are traces of torture on the corpses, the Kyiv region police said in a statement on Saturday.
All three men had been shot in the ear, it said.
Ukraine also reported that Russian shelling on Kharkiv, the country’s second-biggest city, and in the eastern Donbas region had killed one person and injured 12 more.
“The situation in the Kharkiv region is tough. But our military, our intelligence, have important tactical success,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his latest televised address.
Ukrainian forces said they had recaptured the village of Ruska Lozova, near Kharkiv, that had been occupied by Russian troops for two months.
Hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the area.
“It was two months of terrible fear. Nothing else, a terrible and relentless fear,” Natalia, a 28-year-old evacuee from Ruska Lozova, told AFP after reaching Kharkiv.
“We were in the basements without food for two months, we were eating what we had,” said Svyatoslav, 40, who did not want to give his full name, his eyes red with fatigue.
Oleksandr Skachko, a resident of nearby Slatyne, which was also recaptured by Ukrainian troops, said 15 people from the village had been killed.
Addressing Russians, the 47-year-old said: “Your army has invaded our land and is killing our children. No matter what anyone says, no matter what Putin says, our people are dying here.”
Thousands have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes since the Russian invasion of its pro-Western neighbor began on February 24.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Friday briefly choked with emotion as he described the destruction in Ukraine and slammed Putin’s “depravity.”
Ukrainian prosecutors say they have pinpointed more than 8,000 war crimes carried out by Russian troops and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha.
Russia is now intensifying operations in the eastern Donbas region, making some territorial advances, and tightening its stranglehold on the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.
Ukrainian authorities said they planned to evacuate civilians on Friday from the besieged Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout in Mariupol where hundreds are sheltering with Ukrainian troops.
But Denis Pushilin, leader of the breakaway eastern region of Donetsk, accused Ukrainian forces of “acting like outright terrorists” and holding civilians hostage in the steel plant.
From Mariupol’s badly damaged port zone, AFP on Friday heard heavy shelling coming from Azovstal during a media trip organized by the Russian army, with explosions only a few seconds apart.
‘Humiliation’ of the UN
Russia also on Friday confirmed that it carried out an airstrike on Kyiv in which a journalist was killed during a visit by UN chief Antonio Guterres the previous day, the first such attack on the Ukrainian capital in nearly two weeks.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had deployed “high-precision, long-range air-based weapons” that “destroyed the production buildings of the Artyom missile and space enterprise in Kyiv.”
Zelensky called for a stronger global response to Thursday’s strikes, which immediately followed his talks in the city with the UN’s secretary-general.
“It is unfortunate, but such a deliberate and brutal humiliation of the United Nations by Russia has gone unanswered,” he said.
Guterres had also toured Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs where Moscow is alleged to have committed war crimes. Russia denies killing civilians.
“I was moved by the resilience and bravery of the people of Ukraine. My message to them is simple: We will not give up,” Guterres tweeted Friday.
“The UN will redouble its efforts to save lives and reduce human suffering. In this war, as in all wars, the civilians always pay the highest price.”
Kyiv has admitted that Russian forces have captured a string of villages in the Donbas region.
But a senior NATO official said Russia had made only “minor” and “uneven” advances.
The Pentagon also said the Kremlin’s eastern offensive was “behind schedule.”
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the “special military operation… is proceeding strictly according to plan,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
More Western armaments are due to arrive in Ukraine, with US President Joe Biden on Thursday seeking billions of dollars from Congress to boost supplies.
Following a conversation with Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that France would “intensify” its supply of military and humanitarian support.
Russia’s defense ministry in recent days has said its forces have struck Ukrainian military sites hosting Western-supplied weapons and ammunition, a claim denied by a senior NATO official.
Russia has warned Western countries against sending military aid.
“If the US and NATO are really interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis, then first of all, they should wake up and stop supplying the Kyiv regime with arms and ammunition,” Lavrov said.