EU calls for creation of war crimes tribunal over new mass graves in Ukraine

The EU presidency on Saturday called for the creation of an international war crimes tribunal after the discovery of new mass graves in Ukraine.

“In the 21st century, such attacks on the civilian population are unthinkable and heinous,” said Jan Lipavsky, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

“We must not forget it. We defend the punishment of all war criminals,” he added in a message on Twitter.

“I call for the rapid establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”

The appeal follows the discovery by Ukrainian authorities of around 450 graves outside the formerly Russian-occupied town of Izyum, with most of the exhumed bodies showing signs of torture.

“Of the bodies that were exhumed today, 99% showed signs of violent death,” Oleg Synegubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said on social media.

“There are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person is buried with a rope around their neck,” he added.

An AFP journalist on the spot saw at least one body with his hand tied with a rope.

– ‘Murderers, torturers’ –

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the mass graves likely provide more evidence that Russia was committing war crimes in its pro-Western neighbor. French President Emmanuel Macron described what happened in Izyum as atrocities.

The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, said there were “probably more than 1,000 tortured and killed Ukrainian citizens in the liberated territories of the Kharkiv region”.

Ukrainian national police chief Igor Klymenko said he found several torture chambers in the town of Balakliya and elsewhere in Kharkiv since the Russians were driven out.

The United Nations in Geneva said it hoped to send a team to determine the circumstances of the deaths.

The gruesome findings came just over five months after the Russian army, driven from Bucha near the capital Kyiv, left behind hundreds of civilian corpses, many bearing the marks of torture and summary executions .

“The world has to react to all of this,” Zelensky said in a video.

“Russia repeated in Izyum what it did in Bucha. And now we have just started to learn the whole truth about what was happening in the Kharkiv region at that time”.

– “Deeply shocked” –

The European Union is “deeply shocked” by the discovery by Ukrainian officials of mass graves in the recaptured town of Izyum, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Friday.

“This inhumane behavior by Russian forces, in complete disregard of international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions, must stop immediately.

On Thursday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to be brought before the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Ukraine.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin against the use of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons following the heavy losses suffered during his war in Ukraine.

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t,” Biden said, in an excerpt from an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Friday night.

“You would change the face of war like it hasn’t been since World War II,” Biden said.

– ‘Repel them’ –

On the ground, Ukrainian forces have retaken thousands of square kilometers in recent weeks with a counter-offensive in the northeast and are now threatening enemy positions to the south as fighting and shelling continue.

The Russians “are angry because our army is pushing them back in their counteroffensive,” said Svitlana Shpuk, a 42-year-old worker in Kryvyi Rih, a southern town and Zelensky’s hometown, which was flooded after the destruction of a dam. by Russian missiles.

Kharkiv region governor Oleg Synegoubov said an 11-year-old girl was killed by missile fire in the area.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donestk in eastern Ukraine, partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, said on social media that a thermal power plant was ‘bombed by Russian invaders’ on Saturday morning in Mykolaivka.

Ukrainian firefighters were battling the blaze, he said, adding that Russian shelling had led to drinking water cuts.

“The occupiers are deliberately targeting infrastructure in the area in an attempt to inflict as much damage as possible, primarily on the civilian population,” he charged.

I previously reported that two civilians had been killed and 11 injured in the past 24 hours by Russian fire.

– Few inhabitants in the streets –

In its daily press briefing in Moscow, the Kremlin said it carried out “high precision” strikes against Ukrainian positions in the Mykolayev and Kharkiv regions.

In the northeastern city of Kupainsk, which was recaptured last week by Ukrainian forces, clashes continued with the Russian army entrenched on the eastern side of the Oskil River.

Few inhabitants ventured into the streets where Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers moved.

A column of smoke rose above the east of the city, where an ammunition depot was burning.

In the center of the small town, the damaged police station was deserted, the tattered red flag of the Russian army lying on the ground outside.

The Ukrainian military said in a statement that “the enemy carried out four missile strikes and 15 airstrikes during the day, as well as more than 20 multiple rocket launcher strikes on civilian and military sites in Ukraine” .

In the relative calm of Kyiv on Saturday, hundreds of Ukrainians took part in a farewell ceremony at the Kyiv National Opera for former ballet dancer and future teacher Oleksandr Shapoval. He was killed at the age of 47 in the east of the country while fighting the Russians.

Shapoval was hit by mortar fire on September 12, near the town of Mayorsk in the Donetsk region.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has resumed receiving power from the national grid, the UN atomic agency (IAEA) said on Saturday, after being cut off from external power, increasing the risk of accident.

The Russian-occupied plant, the largest in Europe, had been cut off from the national grid since September due to bombings.

by Emmanuel PARISSE