Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak before the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, where he is expected to demand strong additional penalties against Russia for what he has called “war crimes” and “genocide” in the town of Bucha.
After a sombre excursion to Bucha outside the capital, where hundreds of bodies were recovered after Russian troops withdrew, Zelensky delivered his first speech to the body since Russia’s invasion.
International condemnation of Russia has been sparked by horrific photographs of corpses lying in the streets, some with their hands bound behind them.
It has denied responsibility, claiming the photographs are phoney or that the killings occurred after Russian soldiers withdrew from the region.
But newly released satellite photographs taken by Maxar Technologies in mid-March, before the Russian withdrawal, showed what appeared to be bodies in some of the same places they were later found by Ukrainian troops and seen by journalists.
On Monday, wearing body armor and visibly distressed, Zelensky spent half an hour in Bucha, where he blamed Russian troops for the killings.
“These are war crimes and it will be recognized by the world as genocide,” he said.
Later in his nightly address, he demanded: “the sanctions response to Russia’s massacre of civilians must finally be powerful”.
“But… did hundreds of our people have to die in agony for some European leaders to finally understand that the Russian state deserves the most severe pressure?” he asked in the video posted to Telegram.
He also called for additional weapons from Western allies, saying more equipment could have saved thousands.
“I do not blame you — I blame only the Russian military,” he said. “But you could have helped.”
More sanctions ‘this week’
The killings in Bucha have been dubbed “war crimes” by Ukraine’s allies, with the EU proposing to send investigators to gather proof.
“(Russian President Vladimir Putin) is a war criminal,” US President Biden told reporters at the White House. “What’s happening to Bucha is outrageous and everyone’s seen it.”
The White House claimed more sanctions on Moscow would be announced “this week,” with France speculating that such measures could target Russian oil and coal shipments.
However, Germany cautioned that cutting off Russian gas would be premature.
“We have to cut all economic relationship to Russia, but at the moment, it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies. We need some time,” German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said.
Elsewhere, the United States and Britain said they would seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council — a move Moscow branded “unbelievable”.
Russia has called for a UN Security Council meeting on what it dubbed the “heinous provocation of Ukrainian radicals in Bucha”, but Britain — which holds the Council presidency — has so far refused the request.
More horrors emerge
The exact nature of the killings in Bucha and other regions where Russian troops have withdrawn is still unknown.
The dead of five men were discovered in the basement of a children’s sanatorium in Bucha on Monday. They were unarmed people who were chained, beaten, and killed by Russian troops, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office.
In Motyzhyn, west of Kyiv, Ukrainian police showed AFP photographers the remains of five civilians, including the village’s mayor, her husband, and son, who had their wrists tied.
Over 400 civilian dead have been retrieved from the Kyiv region, according to Ukrainian officials, many of whom have been buried in mass graves.
But Zelensky has warned that the deaths in Bucha could be only the tip of the iceberg, saying he had information even more people had been killed in places like nearby Borodianka.
AFP reporters who briefly visited the area saw no bodies in the streets, but locals reported many deaths.
“I know five civilians were killed,” said 58-year-old Rafik Azimov. “But we don’t know how many more are left in the basements of the ruined buildings after the bombardments.”
“I buried six people,” another resident, Volodymyr Nahornyi, said. “More people are under the ruins.”
Mariupol ’90 percent destroyed’
The Russian pullback from Kyiv has been interpreted as a prelude to a fresh attack in Ukraine’s east and south, in which Moscow seeks to solidify territory surrounding occupied Crimea and the separatist statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The Ukrainian government has warned Moscow that it is planning a “full-scale” attack in the country’s east, and regional officials have encouraged citizens to flee Lugansk in anticipation of a massive Russian strike.
The Pentagon estimates Russia has withdrawn about two thirds of the troops it had around Kyiv and will redeploy them to the east and south, with the White House warning the war’s “next phase could be measured in months or longer.”
Even where troops have withdrawn, fears remain, with Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko telling residents to wait before returning, citing the danger of continued shelling and the danger of unexploded munitions.
Overnight, air raid sirens rang out across much of the country, from Lviv in the west to southern Mykolaiv, where officials said Monday that Russian strikes killed 10 civilians and wounded 46.
Elsewhere in the south, concerns remain about civilians trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol.
Authorities say at least 5,000 people have been killed in the city, 90 percent of which has been destroyed, according to mayor Vadim Boichenko.
Around 130,000 residents are still trapped inside, and efforts to evacuate them are now on hold because of “incessant” bombing, he said.
A Red Cross team sent to assist civilians fleeing Mariupol was detained by authorities in a Russian-controlled area on Monday.
According to Ukrainian estimates, the bloodiest conflict in Europe in decades, launched by Russia’s incursion on February 24, has killed as many as 20,000 people.
According to UN organisations, more than 4.2 million Ukrainians have fled the nation and about 6.5 million have been internally displaced.
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