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Vladimir Putin's soldiers have been accused of "genocide" after 440 bodies were found in a mass grave after being "tortured, shot, and killed by shelling," according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Ukrainian premier was visiting Izyum, a city in the Kharkiv region recently liberated from Putin's death squads, when he demanded world leaders declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
He said that the military and civilian victims, that included entire families, were found with broken limbs and ropes around their necks.
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“Children and adults. Civilians and military. Tortured, shot, killed by shelling,” Mr Zelensky said. “Even entire families are buried there: mother, father and daughter.”
The liberation of Izyum and the surrounding villages is seen as Moscow's worst defeat since the retreat from Kyiv in March. But Kyiv's buoyant mood will be dampened by the scenes witnessed by Zelensky on Wednesday, September 14.
“The Russian army has been in the Kharkiv region for more than five months. And during this time, the occupiers did not even try to do anything for the people,” said Mr Zelensky.
“They only destroyed, only deprived, only took away. They left behind devastated villages, and in some of them there is not a single undamaged house. Russia cannot bring anything else except for genocide.”
The site was also peppered by shelling and had evidence of airstrikes which had also killed people, regional police official Serhiy Bolvinov said.
Forensic examinations will now be carried out on all of the bodies, he added.
On the makeup of the graves, Ukraine’s police chief said that most of the people were civilians.
Ihor Klymenko told a news conference on Friday: “On a preliminary estimate, civilians. Although we have information that there are soldiers there, too, we haven’t recovered a single one yet.”
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The exhumations are continuing, he added.
There was at least one mass grave, with a marker saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers, the Independent reported.
Evgenia Prokopenko, a lawyer from Kyiv who joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was stationed in Izyum when it was liberated.
The 35-year-old told the Daily Star: "Even when there is silence, everyone understands that it is the 'calm before the storm'. You should always be on the alert.
"And when the worst comes – the injury or death of your friends – you just clench your fists, grit your teeth and do what is necessary."
She and her fellow soldiers are continuing to liberated towns and villages in the region.
Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the UN’s human rights office, told a press briefing in Geneva that the organisation plans to send monitors to the city to “to try to establish a bit more about what may have happened”.
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- Vladimir Putin
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