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EU Calls for Tribunal After Mass Graves Found in Ukraine

Attacks against civilians ‘abhorrent’, says Jan Lipavský, of Czech Republic, which holds EU presidency

Ukrainian workers exhume bodies from graves in Izium. Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA

The EU presidency has called for the establishment of an international tribunal for war crimes after new mass graves were found in Ukraine.

“In the 21st century, such attacks against the civilian population are unthinkable and abhorrent,” said Jan Lipavský, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

“We must not overlook it. We stand for the punishment of all war criminals,” he added in a message on Twitter. “I call for the speedy establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”

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

“Among the bodies that were exhumed today, 99% showed signs of violent death,” Oleg Synegubov, head of Kharkiv’s 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 his neck,” he added.

“Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers,” said Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Some of the remains exhumed included children and people who were likely tortured before dying, he added.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Friday said that the graves likely provided more evidence that Russia is committing war crimes in its pro-western neighbouring country.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, joined the condemnation, describing what had happened in Izium as atrocities.

“I condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed in Izyum, Ukraine, under Russian occupation,” Macron tweeted.

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

The Ukraine national police chief, Igor Klymenko, said they had found multiple torture rooms in the town of Balakliya and elsewhere in Kharkiv since the Russians were driven out.

The UN in Geneva has said it hopes to send a team to determine the circumstances of the deaths.

The discoveries came a little more than five months after the Russian army, driven out of the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, left behind hundreds of corpses of civilians, many of whom bore the traces of torture and summary executions.

The EU is “deeply shocked” at the discovery by Ukrainian officials of mass graves in the recaptured city of Izium, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday.

“This inhuman behaviour by the Russian forces, in total disregard of international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions, must stop immediately,” he said

On Thursday, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she wanted Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to face the international criminal court over war crimes in Ukraine.

In Washington, the US president, Joe Biden, warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin against using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons after serious losses in his war in Ukraine.

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

Biden was responding to an interviewer’s question about the possibility of Putin, whose army is incurring heavy losses in the Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, resorting to chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.

“You would change the face of war unlike anything since the second world war,” Biden said.

“They will become more of a pariah in the world, more than they have ever been,” the US leader added.

Ukrainian forces have recaptured thousands of square kilometres in recent weeks thanks to a counter-offensive in the north-east and now threaten enemy positions in the south.

The Russians “are angry because our army is pushing them back in its counter-offensive,” said Svitlana Shpuk, a 42-year-old worker in Kryvyi Rih, a southern town, and Zelenskiy’s home town, which was flooded after a damwas destroyed by Russian missiles.

Synegoubov said that an 11-year-old girl was killed by missile fire in the region.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donestk in eastern Ukraine which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, said on social media that Ukrainian firefighters were battling a fire there and that the bombing had led to cuts in drinking water.

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

The Russian army denies targeting civilian infrastructure or residential areas.

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

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