Ukraine accused Russian soldiers of killing unarmed civilians after large numbers of dead bodies were reported to have been found in Bucha, a small city 60km north-west of Kyiv which has been retaken by Ukrainian forces.
Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, said the soldiers who had retaken Bucha from Russian forces had reported “numerous civilians shot dead”.
“Some of victims have their hands tied. Innocent victims. They didn’t deserve that,” she said.
In the nearby village of Motyzhyn Russian soldiers also “did terrible things”, she added. “Their cruelty is limitless. Before Ukrainian troops arrived, [the] Russian army killed as many civilians as possible. Inhuman. Terrible. Speechless.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, posted an image on Twitter appearing to show multiple dead bodies on the streets of Bucha. Some of the victims appeared to have their hands tied behind their backs.
“The bodies of people with tied hands, who were shot dead by [Russian] soldiers lie in the streets,” Podolyak said. “These people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?”
Liz Truss, British foreign secretary, said the UK was collecting evidence of war crimes, adding that she was “appalled by atrocities in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine”.
“Reports of Russian forces targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent,” Truss wrote on Twitter. “The UK is working with others to collect evidence and support the International Criminal Court war crimes investigation. Those responsible will be held to account.”
Melinda Simmons, the British ambassador to Ukraine, accused Russia of “monstrous crimes”.
“Mass graves. Bodies of civilians strewn across streets. Monstrous crimes becoming clearer daily as [Russia] withdraws and regroups,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Rape is a weapon of war. Though we don’t yet know the full extent of its use in Ukraine it’s already clear it was part of [Russia’s] arsenal,” she added. “Women raped in front of their kids, girls in front of their families, as a deliberate act of subjugation. Rape is a war crime.”
Associated Press journalists in Bucha quoted local residents as saying the dead were civilians who had been killed by Russian soldiers without provocation. There was no immediate response from the Kremlin or Russian defence ministry.
Agence France-Presse reporters in the city said they saw at least 20 bodies on a single street.
Anatoly Fedoruk, mayor of Bucha, told AFP that 280 other bodies had already been buried in mass graves in the town.
The reports came as Ukrainian forces claimed they had regained control of the entire Kyiv region, including Bucha and other nearby towns and cities. Hanna Maliar, the country’s deputy defence minister, said late Saturday that Ukraine’s armed forces had taken back control of the provincial area from Russian forces.
“Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” she said in a Facebook post, referring to suburban towns north of the capital city.
Earlier on Saturday, the former chief prosecutor of United Nations war crimes tribunals Carla Del Ponte called for an international arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, telling Swiss media that the Russian president was a “war criminal”.
“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the Blick newspaper. “These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That is unacceptable.”
“Every serious media outlet in the west tomorrow morning needs to ask what Scholz, Macron, Orban and Biden et al. have to say about the Bucha massacre,” Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, said on Twitter. “And what they are going to do about it.”
The US state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia has pulled back its troops from around Kyiv in recent days after failing to breach Ukrainian defences.
The New York Times reported late Friday that the US would work with its western allies to deliver Soviet-era tanks to the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.