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The bodies of more than 900 civilians were discovered in the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital after Russia withdrew – most of them shot dead, police said on Friday, indicating that many people were been “merely executed”.
The divisive figure emerged shortly after Russia’s Defense Ministry pledged to step up missile attacks on kyiv in response to Ukraine’s alleged aggression on Russian territory. The ominous warning follows the staggering loss of Moscow’s flagship in the Black Sea, which a senior US defense official said was indeed hit by at least one Ukrainian missile.
Amid its threats, Moscow continued preparations for a new offensive in eastern Ukraine. Fighting also continued in the southern port city of Mariupol, where residents reported seeing Russian troops digging up bodies. In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, a shelling of a residential area killed seven people, including a 7-month-old child, and injured 34, according to regional governor Oleh Sinehubov.
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Around Kyiv, Andriy Nebytov, the capital’s regional police chief, said bodies had been left on the streets or temporarily buried. He cited police data indicating that 95% died from gunshot wounds.
“Therefore, we understand that under the (Russian) occupation, people were simply executed in the streets,” Nebytov said.
More and more bodies are being found every day under the rubble and in mass graves, he added, with the largest number being found in Bucha, where there were more than 350.
According to Nebytov, utility workers collected and buried bodies on the outskirts of Kyiv while it remained under Russian control. Russian troops, he added, are “hunting down” people who express strong pro-Ukrainian views.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian troops occupying parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south of terrorizing civilians and driving out anyone who has served in the Ukrainian military or government.
“The occupiers think it will make it easier for them to control this territory. But they are deeply mistaken. They are wrong,” Zelenskyy said. “Russia’s problem is that it is not accepted – and will never be accepted – by the entire Ukrainian people. Russia has lost Ukraine forever.”
In his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy also said he had discussed the fate of Mariupol with senior military and intelligence officials. He said he could not give details, “but we are doing everything we can to save our people”.
Zelenskyy said peace and “how many more Ukrainians the occupiers have time to kill” depends on increased external support from Ukraine, and echoed calls for more and more military aid. quickly, as well as an oil embargo on Russia.
More violence could be in store for Kyiv after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of injuring seven people and damaging around 100 residential buildings with airstrikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Authorities in another region bordering Russia also reported Ukrainian shelling on Thursday.
“The number and scale of missile attacks against objects in Kyiv will be intensified in response to the nationalist regime in Kyiv committing terrorist attacks or hijackings on Russian territory,” the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said. , Igor Konashenkov.
Russia used missiles to destroy a missile system repair and production facility in Kyiv, Konashenkov said.
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Ukrainian officials have not confirmed any striking targets in Russia, and the reports could not be independently verified.
However, Ukrainian officials said forces hit a key Russian warship with missiles. A senior US defense official backed up that claim, saying the US now believed the Moskva had been hit by at least one Neptune anti-ship missile, and likely two. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
The Moskva, named after the Russian capital, sank while being towed to port on Thursday after sustaining heavy damage. Although Moscow did not acknowledge any attack, saying only that a fire had detonated ammunition on board, the loss of the ship represents a significant victory for Ukraine and a symbolic defeat for Russia.
The sinking reduced Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea, although military analysts disagree on the significance of the event for the course of the war. Either way, the loss was seen as emblematic of Moscow’s fortunes in an eight-week invasion widely seen as a historic mistake after the kyiv region and much of northern Ukraine.
“A ‘flagship’ Russian warship is a worthy dive site. We now have one more dive site in the Black Sea. We will definitely visit the wreck after our victory in the war,” the Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.
Russia’s warning of more airstrikes didn’t stop Kyiv residents from enjoying a sunny and slightly warmer spring on Friday heading into the weekend. More people than usual were on the streets, walking dogs, riding electric scooters and walking hand in hand.
In a central park, a small group of people, including a woman draped in a Ukrainian flag, danced to music from a portable speaker.
Such faint signs of pre-war life resurfaced in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and retreated to concentrate on eastern Ukraine, leaving behind them evidence of possible war crimes. But another bombardment could mean a return to the regular wail of air raid sirens heard during the early days of the invasion and the chilling nights sheltered in subway stations.
In Mariupol, the city council said on Friday that residents reported seeing Russian soldiers digging up bodies buried in residential yards and not allowing further burials “of people killed by them”.
“Why the exhumation is taking place and where the bodies will be taken are unknown,” the council said on the Telegram messaging app.
Fighting continued in industrial areas and the port, and Russia used the Tu-22М3 long-range bomber for the first time to attack the city, said Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
Mariupol has been blockaded by Russian forces since the early days of the invasion, and dwindling numbers of Ukrainian defenders have withstood a siege that has cost the trapped and starving civilians dearly.
The mayor said this week that the death toll in the city could top 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials said they expected to find evidence in Mariupol of atrocities like those uncovered in Bucha and other cities. other cities apart from kyiv.
Capturing Mariupol would allow Russian forces from the south, crossing the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbass region, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine and the target of the impending offensive. .
It is unclear when Russia will launch a full-scale campaign.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbass since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized the independence of two rebel-held areas in the region.
Also on Friday, a Russian rocket hit an airport overnight in the central town of Oleksandriia, Mayor Serhiy Kuzmenko said via Facebook. He made no mention of casualties.
And a Ukrainian regional official said seven people were killed and 27 injured when Russian forces fired on buses carrying civilians in the village of Borovaya, near Kharkiv. The claim could not be independently verified.
Dmytro Chubenko, spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told the Suspilne news site that authorities had opened criminal charges in connection with an “alleged violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder”. .
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The Russian Defense Ministry said the strikes in the Kharkiv region had “liquidated a mercenary squad of a Polish private military company” numbering up to 30 people and “liberated” a steel plant in Mariupol. The claims could not be independently verified.