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The bodies of more than 900 civilians have been discovered in the region around the Ukrainian capital after Russia’s withdrawal – most of them fatally shot, police said on Friday, an indication that many people were “simply executed”.
The shocking figure emerged shortly after Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to escalate missile attacks on Kiev in response to Ukraine’s alleged attacks on Russian territory. This ominous warning followed the astonishing loss of Moscow’s flagship of the Black Sea, which a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday was actually hit by at least one Ukrainian missile.
In the midst of its threats, Moscow continued preparations for a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine. The fighting also continued in the battered southern port city of Mariupol, where locals reported seeing Russian troops dig up corpses. In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, shelling of a residential area killed seven people, including a 7-month-old child, and injured 34, according to regional governor Oleh Sinehubov.
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Around Kiev, Andriy Nebytov, the head of the capital’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, with the largest number found in Bucha, where there were more than 350.
According to Nebytov, supply workers collected 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.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian troops occupying parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south of terrorizing civilians and hunting down anyone who served in Ukraine’s military or government.
“The occupiers think this will make it easier for them to control this area. But they are making a lot of mistakes. They are fooling themselves,” Zelenskyy said. “Russia’s problem is that it is not accepted – and will never be accepted – by the entire Ukrainian people. Russia has lost Ukraine forever.”
In his nightly video speech to the nation, Zelenskyy also said he discussed Mariupol’s fate with top military and intelligence officials. He said he could not give details, “but we are doing everything we can to save our people.”
Zelenskyy said peace and “how many more Ukrainians the occupying power has time to kill” depend on Ukraine receiving more outside support, and reiterated calls for more and faster military aid as well as an oil embargo against Russia.
More violence may be in store 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 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.
Russia used missiles to destroy a facility for the repair and production of missile systems in Kiev, Konashenkov said.
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Ukrainian officials have not confirmed attacking targets in Russia and the reports could not be independently verified.
But Ukrainian officials said forces hit an important Russian warship with missiles. A senior U.S. defense official supported the claim, saying the United States now believes Moscow was hit by at least one Neptune anti-ship missile and probably two. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
Moscow, named after the Russian capital, sank while being towed to port Thursday after taking major damage. Although Moscow did not acknowledge any attack and only said that a fire had caused ammunition on board to detonate, the loss of the ship represents an important victory for Ukraine and a symbolic defeat for Russia.
The sinking 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 during an eight-week invasion that was widely seen as a historic blunder following 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 on Friday.
Russia’s warning of renewed air strikes did not prevent Kyiv residents from taking advantage of a sunny and slightly warmer spring Friday as the weekend approached. More people than usual were out on the streets, walking dogs, riding electric scooters 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.
Such preliminary signs of pre-war life have reappeared in the capital after Russian troops failed to conquer the city and withdrew to concentrate on eastern Ukraine, leaving evidence of possible war crimes. But a renewed bombardment could mean a return to the constant howl of air raid sirens heard in the early days of the invasion, and to dreadful nights in the shelter of subway stations.
In Mariupol, the city council said on Friday that locals reported seeing Russian troops bury corpses buried in courtyards and not allowing 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.
Fighting continued in industrial areas and the port, and Russia used the Tu-22М3 long-range bomber for the first time to attack the city, said Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
Mariupol has been blocked by Russian forces since the early days of the invasion, and a dwindling number of Ukrainian defenders have endured a siege that has cost terrifying imprisoned and starving civilians.
The mayor said this week that the city’s death toll could exceed 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find evidence in Mariupol of atrocities such as those discovered in Bucha and other cities outside Kiev.
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.
It is not certain when Russia will launch a full-scale campaign.
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 the independence of two rebel-held areas in the region.
Also on Friday, a Russian rocket hit an airport at night in the central city of Oleksandriia, Mayor Serhiy Kuzmenko said via Facebook. He did not mention anything about the injured.
And a regional Ukrainian official said seven people were killed and 27 wounded when Russian forces fired on buses carrying civilians in the village of Borovaya near Kharkiv. The claim could not be independently verified.
Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told the Suspilne news website that the authorities had launched a criminal case in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder.”
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Russia’s Defense Ministry said strikes in the Kharkiv region had “liquidated a group of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” of up to 30 people and “liberated” an iron and steel factory in Mariupol. The allegations could not be independently verified.