© Reuters Ukrainian servicemen guard the area in the city of Izium, which was recently liberated by Ukrainian forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, September 14, 2022, as Russia’s offensive against Ukraine continues. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
by Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian authorities have found a mass grave containing 440 bodies, including those killed by gunfire and airstrikes, in the town of Izium that was retaken from Russian forces days ago, officials said.
Thousands of Russian troops left Izium last weekend after seizing the city and using it as a logistics hub in the Kharkiv region. They left behind a lot of ammunition and weapons.
“Mass graves are being discovered at Izium after liberation from Russians,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted, the largest cemetery containing 440 unidentified graves.
“Some were killed by artillery fire… some were killed by airstrikes,” Serhii Bolvinov, chief police inspector of the Kharkiv region, told Sky News.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the Ukrainian reports and there was no comment from Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Izium on Wednesday, compared the discovery to a war crime committed by Russian forces against civilians in Bucha, a suburb of the capital Kyiv, early in the war.
“Russia has left death everywhere and must be held accountable,” Zelensky said in a video address late Thursday.
Russia has said it has not targeted civilians or committed war crimes.
After a week of rapid Ukrainian gains in the northeast, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were strengthening their defenses and that it would be difficult to maintain the pace of the advance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to publicly comment on this month’s military defeat. Ukrainian officials say about 9,000 square kilometers (3,400 square miles) of the island of Cyprus have been retaken.
Reuters video from the eastern city of Kupyansk, a key supply hub that Ukrainian forces recaptured last week, showed several buildings damaged or burned.
“No electricity, no communication…if we had communications, we could at least talk to the family. If only all this bombing didn’t happen, everyone was in their homes,” said one man.
The speed of the advance has led to some success in showing the Western allies that Ukraine needs more equipment to strengthen its defense.
In Washington, US President Joe Biden announced a new $600 million weapons package to help Ukraine, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and artillery rounds. The United States has sent nearly $15.1 billion in security aid to Kiev since the February 24. Russian invasion.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces opened fire on the city of Kharkiv and other cities in the region on Thursday.
More than 90 missiles and artillery shells were also aimed at the border with Russia, said Dmytro Zhivitsky, the governor of the Sumy region.
On the Russian side, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said the Ukrainian army had struck the town of Valuki near the border.
In a telegram, “Anti-aircraft defenses are activated, but there is some destruction on the ground.” This includes out-of-commission power distribution and private homes and burned vehicles.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield reports.
China’s concern about Ukraine
Russia’s Putin acknowledged on Thursday that Chinese leader Xi Jinping was worried about the crisis in Ukraine, in a surprising acknowledgment of the rift with Beijing caused by the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, China criticized Western sanctions against Moscow and stopped supporting or aiding the military operation.
We understand your questions and concerns on this issue. We will definitely express our position at today’s meeting, Putin told Xi in Uzbekistan during their first meeting since the start of the war.
Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public speech, nor was it mentioned in China’s report on the meeting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later told reporters that his talks with China had gone well.
The last time Putin and Xi met, they signed a “no-limits” friendship treaty between their countries. Three weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a special military operation to “disarm” its smaller neighbor.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unwanted war of aggression.
Pope Francis said it is morally legal for countries to provide weapons to Ukraine so that the country can defend itself.
“This is a morally acceptable political decision if this is done in ethical circumstances,” Francis told reporters on his way from Kazakhstan.
Francis urged the Kiev government to be open to dialogue eventually, as it is difficult for the Ukrainian side, despite its “fragrance”.