Ukraine accuses Russia of ‘massacre’ of civilians; Moscow denies it By Reuters

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© Reuters. Ukrainian soldiers walk near a Ukrainian flag, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the village of Kozarovychi, in Ukraine’s Kiev region, April 2, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

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(Adds Russia calls for UN meeting; Guterres calls for inquiry; other details)

By Simon Gardner

BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine on Sunday accused Russian troops of committing a “massacre” in the city of Bucha, as Western countries reacted to images of dead bodies there with calls for new sanctions against Moscow.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the Ukrainian allegations, saying images and photos of bodies in Bucha were “another provocation” by the Ukrainian government.

The images of the city, 37 km (23 miles) northwest of Kiev city center, emerged after Ukraine said on Saturday its forces had reclaimed control of the entire Kiev region and liberated cities from Russian forces.

They sparked outrage in Ukraine and abroad, adding to pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by increasing the likelihood of further Western sanctions. Western countries have already tried to economically isolate and punish Russia for the invasion, which began on February 24.

“The Bucha massacre was intentional,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter (NYSE:).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the images as “a punch in the stomach”, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia should pay for “war crimes”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would step up sanctions, as well as military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, adding that Western allies would agree on further sanctions in the coming days.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the European Union should discuss a ban on Russian gas imports – a departure from Berlin’s earlier opposition to the idea of ​​an embargo on Russian energy imports.

Russia called on the UN Security Council to meet Monday to discuss what Moscow called a “provocation by Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha.

The Ministry of Defense in Moscow described photos and videos of the city as a “staged performance.”

Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and has dismissed charges of war crimes in what it calls a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine. Ukraine says it invaded without provocation.

On Saturday, Reuters saw bodies in a mass grave and still lying in the street, while on Sunday Bucha’s mayor, Anatoliy Fedoruk, showed reporters two corpses with white cloths wrapped around their arms, one of which was in their mouths.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Ukrainian forces had found and set fire to the bodies of raped women, as well as the bodies of local officials and children.

The mayor of Bucha said 300 residents had been killed during a month-long occupation by the Russian army.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify Arestovych and Fedoruk’s allegations.

Ukraine’s foreign minister called on the International Criminal Court to collect evidence of what he called Russian war crimes, while the foreign ministers of France and Britain said their countries would support such an investigation.

However, legal experts say a prosecution of Putin or other Russian leaders would face major hurdles and could take years.

Human Rights Watch said it had “documented several cases of Russian armed forces violating war laws” in Ukraine’s Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kiev regions.

Ukraine’s Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said prosecutors investigating possible war crimes committed by Russia have found 410 bodies in towns near Kiev, 140 of which have been investigated.

FIGHTING IN DIFFERENT AREAS

Russia has withdrawn troops that had threatened Kiev from the north, saying it planned to focus on eastern Ukraine.

Fighting was reported in several parts of Ukraine on Sunday.

The governor of the eastern region of Donetsk said the shelling had continued all day and night. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, seven people have been killed in Russian shelling, according to the regional prosecutor.

Missiles hit near Odessa’s southern port, with Russia saying it destroyed an oil refinery used by the Ukrainian military. Odessa City Council said “critical infrastructures” were affected.

Dmytro Lunin, governor of the central Poltava region, said the oil refinery in Kremenchug, 350 km (220 miles) northeast of Odessa, was destroyed by a separate rocket attack on Saturday.

Two blasts were heard on Sunday in the Russian city of Belgorod, near the border with Ukraine, two witnesses told Reuters, days after Russian authorities accused Ukrainian troops of attacking a fuel depot there.

Ukraine on Sunday evacuated 2,694 people from conflict zones in the southeastern port of Mariupol and the Luhansk region, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. Ukrainian officials were in talks with Russia to allow several Red Cross buses to enter Mariupol, she added.

The Red Cross has abandoned previous attempts due to security concerns. Russia blamed the charity for the delays.

Mariupol is Russia’s main target in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region, and tens of thousands of civilians there have been trapped for weeks with limited access to food and water.

There was little sign of a breakthrough in efforts to negotiate an end to the war, although Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said talks would resume via videoconference Monday.

Medinsky said that while Ukraine showed more realism in agreeing to be neutral, renounce nuclear weapons, not join a military bloc and refuse to host military bases, no progress had been made on other key Russian demands.

“I repeat again and again: Russia’s position on Crimea and Donbas remains UNCHANGED,” he said on Telegram.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has recognized the declarations of independence by the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk republics in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which revolted against Kiev’s rule.