what do we know about the Izioum mass grave, where 445 graves were discovered in the forest

From the first days of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, in February, the city of Izium was the target of bombing. Occupied since the spring by Vladimir Putin’s army, this strategic locality in Donbass, at the crossroads of the roads connecting Kharhiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, was liberated by Ukrainian forces on Saturday 10 September. A week ago, kyiv invited the international media to witness the horror: hundreds of graves, discovered in the forest bordering the city. As Ukrainian investigators begin exhuming the bodies, here’s what we know about these shocking discoveries.

A cemetery with 445 graves was excavated

On Thursday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the discovery of what he described as “pauper’s grave” in Izioum, a town which, before the war, had about 50,000 inhabitants. In a forest on the border of the locality, the soldiers discovered 445 wooden crosses, which correspond to many graves, said Radio France reporters immediately.

A few meters away, another tomb is marked with a cross, where we can read the following inscription: “Ukrainian army, 17 people. Izium, from the morguee”, reports AFP journalists on the spot. If this grave contains the bodies of 17 soldiers “buried together”, “most of the civilians were buried individually”told the Guardian (link in English)the prosecutor of the Kharkhiv region, where Izyum is based, Oleksandr Filchakov.

However, the identity of most of the dead remains unknown. Asked by the British daily, the director of a local funeral home explained that he was asked by the Russian authorities to write down the numbers of the graves, and record the corresponding names in a register. Regarding the burial conditions, he spoke “a disaster” and spoke to Guardian how the bodies had to be buried under the bombings, before the bodies were moved again. The graves were dug by Russian forces that took the city in March and occupied it until last week, said the government official for the search for missing people, Oleg Kotenko.

Local authorities denounced acts of torture against civilians

According to the governor of the region, Oleg Synegoubov, “450 bodies of civilians with signs of brutal death and torture” found on this site. “There are corpses with their arms tied behind their backs, others with ropes around their necks. Surely 99% of the people here died violent deaths”, is he there said Friday.

According to local authorities, some bodies have “hands are tied”and on “Obviously these people were tortured and killed.”

Ukrainian police chief Igor Klymenko announced the discovery of 10 “torture chambers” of the localities taken back from the Russians in the Kharkiv region, including six in Izium and two in the town of Balakliïa, about fifty kilometers northeast of Izium, in the direction of Karkhiv. In front of the franceinfo camera, a civilian recounts being tortured, because his brother is a soldier: “They made me hold two cables connected to an electric generator. The faster it spins, the stronger the discharge”.


Victims also died in the bombings

On Thursday, a regional police officer, Serguiy Botvinov, told Sky News television that some of the dead were shot and killed, while others died in the shooting. Attacked by Russian forces from February 28, the city has been the subject of heavy strikes for several weeks. AFP journalists who visited Izioum on Monday September 12 saw the wounds of this operation aimed at taking the city: ruins, houses and public buildings destroyed, corpses of armored vehicles that scattered on the streets and everywhere, the trace of fights.

War in Ukraine: Izium, a city taken by the Ukrainian army from the Russians
France 2

Here, there are many children among the bodies”, said Friday regional governor Oleg Synegoubov. According to him, most of the victims died during the Russian bombing at the beginning of the invasion.

Oleg Kotenko, government official for the search for missing persons, said that “Graves without names are people [trouvés] on the road”. “There are many people dying of hunger”, he said, as quoted by AFP. “This part of the city is isolated, there are no supplies. People are blocked, no one is working”.

The remains will be exhumed and autopsied after the opening of the investigation

The exhumation of these bodies should make it possible to determine the causes of death of these people. “200 agents and experts” working on the site, Oleg Synegoubov said again on Friday, explaining that “The bodies will be sent for autopsy… Every death will be investigated and become evidence of Russian war crimes in international courts.” he added.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, several people, suspected of hastily burying the bodies, have been arrested, reports Radio France. According to the prosecutor, it is about the residents of the city who were supposed to be improvised gravediggers in the service of the Russians during the occupation of Izioum, to “clean up” the bombed homes. If not, there is an investigation of the corpses of these 17 Ukrainian soldiers who are also found in this forest, a few meters from civilians, continues Radio France.

Scientific police working in Izioum, Friday September 16, 2022. (BORIS LOUMAGNE / RADIO FRANCE)

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, for its part, immediately confirmed its intention to send a team to Izioum to “determining the circumstances of these people’s deaths”.

Ukraine criticized the responsibility of the Russian army

“For months, terror, violence, torture and mass killings reigned in the occupied territories” Reacting on Twitter on Friday, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak. Volodymyr Zelensky pointed the responsibility of the Russian army. “Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Tortures. Deprived of all people”he launchedyears a video posted on Friday on Telegram. “There is also evidence that Russian soldiers, whose positions are not far from this place, shot the buried people just for fun,” added Volodymyr Zelensky, promising “a severe punishment” to those responsible.

Russia did not respond to kyiv’s accusations

onafter the residents met with Radio France, “no mass killings were done by Russians in Izium. No summary executions, like in Irpin or Boutcha, north of kyiv.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not react to the discovery of these graves. He said operations continued despite major counter-offensives by the Ukrainian army in the northeast and south of the country. “Kyiv authorities have announced that they have begun an active counter-offensive. Well, we’ll see how it ends.” Vladimir Putin just commented.

According to him, the key objective of the Kremlin remains “the liberation of the entire territory of Donbass”.

The EU said it was “deeply shocked”

Russia is on the move “terrible way and it shows and repeats (…). We will see what he left behind in his wake”commented in Washington the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken.

The EU also said “so shocked”. “Russia, its political leaders and all those involved in the continued violation of international law and international humanitarian law in Ukraine will be held accountable”said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, in a press release.

Same story in France: on Twitter, President Emmanuel Macron condemned “with the greatest strength the atrocities committed in Izium, Ukraine, under Russian occupation”.

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