Ukraine strengthens hold on liberated lands, separatist calls for urgent referendum

Ukraine strengthens hold on liberated lands, separatist calls for urgent referendum

Fanning out in groups beneath the trees, workers used shovels to exhume the partially decomposed bodies, some of which locals said had lain in the town streets long after they died before being buried.

The government has not yet said how most of the people died, though officials say dozens were killed in the shelling of an apartment building, and there are signs others were killed by shrapnel.

According to preliminary examinations, four showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied round their neck, Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the burial ground.

Bolvinov said the great majority of the bodies appeared to be civilians. Locals have been identifying their dead by matching names to numbers on flimsy wooden crosses marking the graves.

“Soldiers had their hands tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,” Bolvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were in a mass grave at the site.

Reuters could not corroborate Ukraine’s allegations of torture.

The Kremlin denied on Monday that Russia was to blame for atrocities that Ukraine says it has uncovered in the recaptured territory.

“It’s a lie, and of course we will defend the truth in this story,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, comparing the allegations to incidents earlier in the war where Russia claimed without evidence that atrocities were staged by Ukrainians.

ALARM OVER NUCLEAR PLANT

Ukraine accused Russian forces on Monday of shelling near the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in the country’s southern Mykolaiv region.

A blast occurred 300 metres away from the reactors and damaged power plant buildings shortly after midnight, Ukraine’s atomic power operator Energoatom said in a statement. The reactors were not damaged and no staff were hurt, it said, publishing photographs showing a huge crater it said was caused by the blast.

“Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,” Zelenskyy said in a social media post.

The strikes will add to global concern over the potential for an atomic disaster, already elevated by fighting around another Ukrainian nuclear power plant in the south, Zaporizhzhia, captured by Russian forces in March. Moscow has ignored international calls to withdraw and demilitarise it.

In a new setback at Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA said a power line used to supply the plant was disconnected on Sunday, leaving it without backup power from the grid.

“ILLUSORY GOALS”

Russia’s rapid losses over the past few weeks have shaken a Kremlin public relations campaign that has never veered from the line that the “special military operation” is “going to plan”.

Alla Pugacheva, 73, Russia’s most celebrated pop diva since the Soviet era, became by far the biggest mainstream cultural figure to oppose the war, with a post on Instagram denouncing “the death of our guys for illusory goals that are turning our country into a pariah and worsening the lives of our citizens”.

In London, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and First Lady Olena Zelenska attended the funeral of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Russia was banned from the ceremony.

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