KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – More than 900 civilian bodies have been discovered in the region around the Ukrainian capital after the withdrawal of Russian forces – most of them fatally shot, police said Friday, indicating that many people “were simply executed.”
The shocking figures emerged shortly after Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to escalate missile attacks on Kiev in response to Ukraine’s alleged aggression on Russian territory. This ominous warning followed the astonishing loss of Moscow’s flagship in the Black Sea, as a senior U.S. defense officer said Friday was actually hit by at least one Ukrainian missile.
Around Kyiv, Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force, said bodies were left on the streets or given temporary burials. He cited police data indicating that 95% died of gunshot wounds.
“As a result, we understand that during the (Russian) occupation, people were simply executed in the streets,” Nebytov said.
More bodies are found every day, under rubble and in mass graves, he added. The largest number of victims was found in Bucha, where there were more than 350, he said.
According to Nebytov, supply workers in Bucha gathered and buried corpses in the Kyiv suburb while remaining under Russian control. Russian troops, he added, “tracked down” people who expressed strong pro-Ukrainian views.
More damage could be on the way for Kiev after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of injuring seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings with airstrikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Authorities in another border region of Russia also reported on Ukrainian shelling on Thursday.
“The number and scale of missile strikes on objects in Kiev will increase in response to Kyiv’s nationalist regime committing terrorist attacks or diversions on Russian territory,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
In Kiev, a renewed bombardment could mean a return to the constant howl of air raid sirens heard during the early days of the invasion and for dreadful nights in shelter at subway stations. Preliminary signs of life before the war have reappeared in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and withdrew to concentrate on eastern Ukraine, leaving evidence of possible war crimes.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed attacking targets in Russia and the reports could not be independently verified.
But Ukrainian officials said their forces hit an important Russian warship with missiles. And after more than a day in which the Pentagon said it could not confirm the claim, a senior U.S. defense official said it now believes Moscow was hit by at least one and probably two missiles on Wednesday, creating the big fire on board. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
The guided missile cruiser Moscow, named after the Russian capital, then sank while being towed to port Thursday after suffering major damage. Although Moscow did not recognize any attack, the loss of the ship represents an important victory for Ukraine and a symbolic defeat for Russia.
Moscow had the capacity to carry 16 long-range cruise missiles. The last time a warship as large as Moscow sank in combat was in 1982. A British submarine torpedoed an Argentine naval cruiser called the ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands War and killed over 300 sailors.
The sinking of the Russian warship reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea, although military analysts disagreed on the significance of the event for the course of the war. Either way, the loss was considered symbolic of Moscow’s fortunes in a seven-week invasion widely seen as a historic blunder. after the withdrawal from the Kyiv region and large parts of northern Ukraine.
“A ‘flagship’ Russian warship is a worthy dive site. We have another dive site in the Black Sea now. Will definitely visit the wreck after our victory in the war,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted in a brag on Friday.
In his evening speech on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Ukrainians that they should be proud to have survived 50 days under Russian attack, as the attackers “gave us a maximum of five.”
Russia’s warning of renewed air strikes did not prevent Kyiv residents from taking advantage of a sunny and slightly warmer spring day as the weekend approached. More people than usual were out on the streets on Friday, walking dogs, riding an electric scooter and strolling hand in hand.
In a central park, a small group of people including a woman draped in a Ukrainian flag danced to the music from a portable speaker.
Residents reported hearing explosions in parts of Kiev overnight, but it was not clear which sites were targeted.
News of Moscow overshadowed Russian claims of progress in the southern port city of Mariupol, which Moscow forces have blocked since the early days of the invasion. Falling numbers of Ukrainian defenders have endured a siege that has cost horrific detainees and starving civilians.
The mayor of Mariupol said this week that more than 10,000 civilians were dead and the death toll could exceed 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find evidence in Mariupol of atrocities against civilians such as those discovered in Bucha and other cities outside Kiev.
Mariupol City Council said on Friday that locals reported seeing Russian troops dig up corpses that were buried in apartment buildings and did not allow new burials “of people killed by them.”
“Why the excavation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken is unknown,” the council said on the Telegram messaging app.
The capture of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully connect with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, and the target of the impending offensive.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014, the same year that Russia conquered Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized independence of two rebel-held areas in the region.
Although it is not certain when Russia will launch the full-scale campaign, a regional Ukrainian official said on Friday that seven people were killed and 27 wounded after Russian forces opened fire on civilian buses in the village of Borovaya, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv. The claim could not be independently verified.
Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news website that the Ukrainian authorities had launched a criminal case in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder.”
A major explosion also hit the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where a missile attack on a train station a week earlier killed more than 50 people as thousands of warnings to evacuate the Donbas area were waiting to leave the area.
Associated Press reporters in Kramatorsk heard the sound of a rocket or missile and then the explosion, followed by sirens paying tribute on Friday. It was not immediately clear what was hit or whether there were any injured. A day earlier, a factory in the same city was hit by an air strike.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that Russian attacks in the Kharkiv region “liquidated a group of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” of up to 30 people and “liberated” an iron and steel factor in Mariupol. The allegations could not be independently verified.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense explained the damage to Moscow by saying that a fire had caused ammunition on board to detonate. Apart from the cruise missiles, Moscow also carried air defense missiles and other cannons.
The ministry did not say what could have caused the fire, but reported that the crew, which usually counts about 500, left the vessel. It was not clear if there were any injured.
Maksym Marchenko, governor of Ukraine’s Black Sea region Odesa, said Ukrainian forces hit Moscow with two Neptune missiles, causing “serious damage.” Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine based on a former Soviet design.
Fisch reported from Kramatorsk. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine