BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president planned to address the UN’s most powerful body on Tuesday after even more gruesome evidence emerged of massacres of civilians in areas that Russian forces recently left. Western countries have expelled dozens more diplomats from Moscow and weighed new sanctions as they expressed disgust at what they say are war crimes.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Security Council will be rich in symbolism, but the invitation and other displays of Western support are unlikely to change the situation on the ground. He says his forces desperately need more powerful weapons, some of which the West has been reluctant to donate. Russia’s veto ensures the body will take no action, and it was unclear whether its representatives would even remain in the chamber for the video address.
Ukrainian officials said the bodies of at least 410 civilians were found in towns around kyiv that were retaken from Russian forces and that a “torture chamber” was discovered in the town called Bucha. where some of the darker details emerged.
Associated Press reporters in the city counted dozens of plainclothes bodies. Many appeared to have been shot at close range, and some had their hands tied or their flesh burned. A mass grave in a cemetery contained bodies wrapped in plastic. Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said the bodies of five men, with their hands tied, were found in the basement of a children’s sanatorium where civilians had been tortured and killed.
High-resolution satellite imagery from commercial provider Maxar Technologies, meanwhile, showed that many bodies had lain out in the open for weeks while Russian forces were in the city. The New York Times first reported on the footage showing the dead.
US President Joe Biden has said Russian President Vladimir Putin should be tried for war crimes.
“Only non-humans are capable of this,” said Angelica Chernomor, a refugee from kyiv who crossed over to Poland with her two children and who had seen Bucha’s photos. “Even if people live under a totalitarian regime, they have to maintain feelings, dignity, but they don’t.”
Chernomor is one of more than 4 million Ukrainians who fled the country following the February 24 invasion. More than 7 million more people have been displaced inside Ukraine, the UN migration agency estimates.
Russia has dismissed claims of atrocities, with officials repeatedly claiming without evidence that the scenes were faked. Moscow said it would speak about Bucha at the UN on Tuesday, indicating that its representatives will attend at least part of the meeting.
Russia has sought to refute similar accusations against its forces in the past by accusing its enemies of tampering with photos and videos and using so-called crisis actors. Western officials and independent journalists say Russia is spreading disinformation to cover up its actions.
As Western leaders condemned the Bucha killings, Italy, Spain and Denmark expelled dozens of Russian diplomats on Tuesday, following moves by Germany and France. Hundreds of Russian diplomats have been sent home since the invasion began, many of whom are accused of being spies. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the deportations a “short-sighted” measure that would complicate communication during the crisis and warned they would face “reciprocal measures”.
In another show of support, European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen plans to travel to Kyiv to meet Zelenskyy this week. The EU, made up of 27 countries, has firmly supported Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 and has already imposed four rounds of sanctions. A fifth round is envisaged this week.
But Western nations are divided on how far to go. Some are calling for a boycott of Russian oil and gas imports, while Germany and others fear such a move could plunge the continent into a serious economic crisis. And NATO countries have refused to hand over some of the most powerful weapons Zelenskyy has requested, such as fighter jets.
Their supply of other weapons and equipment has been credited with helping Ukraine mount a firmer-than-expected resistance to overwhelming Russian firepower.
This resistance has prevented Russian forces from invading the capital, and their troops are now retreating from areas around kyiv. About two-thirds of Russian troops deployed around the city are either in Belarus or en route there, said a US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an assessment intelligence.
The official said they were probably getting more supplies and reinforcements. Other Western and Ukrainian officials have warned that retreating Russian forces are only regrouping. Some are already redeploying to the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region since 2014.
Zelenskyy appealed again on Monday for more weapons to deal with this coming offensive.
“If we had already gotten what we needed – all those planes, tanks, artillery, anti-missile and anti-ship weapons – we could have saved thousands of people,” he said.
The president’s video speeches in European capitals, in which he sought to rally diplomatic, financial and military support for his country, have become commonplace, and he was due to address the Spanish parliament on Tuesday.
But the speech in the Security Council could be even more dramatic, with all eyes on the reaction of the Russian representatives present.
The Ukrainian military says that in Donbass, Russia is focusing on seizing the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the Azov seaport of Mariupol, which has seen weeks of heavy fighting in a huge cost for the city and its inhabitants.
“The enemy is regrouping its troops and concentrating its efforts on preparing an offensive operation in the east of our country,” he said in a statement. “The goal is to establish full control over the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, which Russia has recognized as independent.
Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk on Tuesday urged residents to stay indoors, close windows and doors and prepare wet masks after a Russian strike hit a storage tank containing nitric acid near Rubizhne, which the Russians tried to seize.
Serhiy Haidai warned that the chemical, which is used in fertilizers and explosives, “is dangerous if inhaled, swallowed and in contact with skin and mucous membranes”. The Russian military did not comment on the alleged strike, and it could not be independently verified.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk meanwhile said seven humanitarian corridors will be opened on Tuesday, including from besieged Mariupol, where 1,500 civilians were able to escape in private vehicles on Monday, as well as from Russian-held Berdyansk.
But it was not immediately clear whether Russia had agreed to stop the fighting along the corridors. Previous efforts to bring civilians to safety through humanitarian corridors have failed due to renewed fighting.
An international Red Cross team has given up entering Mariupol until at least Tuesday after several days of trying to bring aid to the beleaguered city and help escort civilians.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the team was detained overnight by police in Manhush, west of Mariupol, but later released. He did not identify the nationality of the police, but Manhush has been under Russian control for weeks.
This story has been updated to correct that Mariupol is on the Sea of Azov, not the Black Sea.
Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine; Edith Lederer at the United Nations; Lolita Baldor in Washington and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine