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World leaders rally around Ukraine as Zelenskyy accuses Russia of massacre

BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) — As foreign outrage mounts over evidence of possible executions and other atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine, Germany’s defense minister says Europe must consider stepping up sanctions against Moscow by boycotting its gas exports, an economically painful step. avoid.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that “we strongly condemn attacks on civilians” following reports of bodies found with signs of torture in areas abandoned by Russian forces. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called reports of rapes and other atrocities by Russian soldiers “beyond reprehensible”.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a call in a video shown during the Grammy Awards in Las Vegas for musicians and other artists to tell the story of Russia’s invasion. “Support us in any way you can,” Zelenskyy said.

Also on Sunday, at least seven people were killed and 34 injured, including three children, by the Russian shelling of Kharkiv in the northeast, Ukraine’s second largest city, according to the regional prosecutor’s office. In the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said at least one person died in the shelling and 14 were injured.

Ukrainian officials said the bodies of 410 civilians were found in towns around the capital, Kyiv, which had been retaken from Russian forces.

In Bucha, northwest of the capital, Associated Press reporters saw 21 bodies. A group of nine people, all in civilian clothes, were scattered around a site that locals said Russian troops were using as a base. They appeared to have been shot at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs.

Zelenskyy called the killings evidence of genocide, but the Russian Defense Ministry denied the charge. He said photos and videos of corpses “were staged by the kyiv regime for Western media.”

The ministry said “no civilians” in Bucha had faced violent military action and the mayor did not mention any abuses a day after Russian troops left.

The February 24 invasion by Russian President Vladimir Putin killed thousands and forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country. Putin said the attack was aimed at removing a security threat after Ukraine’s government applied for membership in the US-European NATO military alliance.

The head of the Ukrainian delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow negotiators had informally accepted most of a draft proposal discussed at the talks in Istanbul, but no written confirmation was provided. Russian demands include that Ukraine declare itself neutral and renounce membership in military alliances.

Russian forces withdrew from some areas around kyiv after Moscow said it was focusing its offensive on the east of the country, where two regions are controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Russian troops had arrived at Bucha early in the invasion and remained there until March 30.

A woman walks among destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, Ukraine, April 3, 2022.

Rodrigo Abd via Associated Press

Reports of atrocities are serious enough that European officials “should talk about cutting off gas supplies to Russia”, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told state broadcaster ARD. . “Such crimes must not go unaddressed.”

Europe gets 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, while these sales are the Kremlin’s main source of export revenue.

Governments have struggled to find ways to reduce this dependency. Estimates of the impact of a gas boycott on European countries vary, but most involve a substantial loss of economic output.

For its part, Russia is enjoying a temporary windfall as global prices rise on concern over potential supply disruptions.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has called on nations to end imports of Russian gas. He said they were financing the killings.

On Saturday, Lithuania announced it had halted imports of Russian gas and urged other European governments to do the same.

“If we can do it, the rest of Europe can do it too! President Gitana Nauseda said on Twitter, calling Russia “an aggressor”.

Some European leaders have declared the killings in the kyiv region to be war crimes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the footage of what happened near kyiv a “punch in the stomach” on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The United States has previously said it believes Russia committed war crimes.

“This is brutality against civilians that we haven’t seen in Europe for decades,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on the same broadcast.

Russia has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday to discuss the events in the city. The United States and Britain recently accused Russia of using Security Council meetings to spread disinformation.

A resident of Bucha, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, said Russian troops were going from building to building and pulling people out of basements where they were hiding. The resident said soldiers checked their phones for evidence of anti-Russian activity and either took them away or shot them.

The AP also saw two bodies, that of a man and a woman, wrapped in plastic which locals said they covered and placed in a well until a proper funeral could be arranged.

“He put his hands up and they shot him,” said the resident who declined to be identified.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskyy, claimed that some of the women were raped before they were killed and that the Russians then burned the bodies.

On Monday, the Ukrainian army said its forces had recaptured some towns in the Chernihiv region and humanitarian aid was on its way. The road between Chernihiv and Kyiv was expected to reopen to some traffic later in the morning, according to the RBK Ukraina news agency.

The mayor of Chernihiv, who has been without food and other supplies for weeks, said Russian shelling had destroyed 70% of the northern city.

In a video address posted online on Sunday, Zelenskyy said Russian soldiers who killed and tortured civilians were responsible for “concentrated evil”.

“It is time to do everything in our power to make the war crimes of the Russian military the latest manifestation of such evil on earth,” he said in remarks translated by his office.

The president directed some of his remarks to the mothers of Russian soldiers.

“Even if you raised raiders, how did they also become butchers? he said. “You cannot ignore that they are deprived of all that is human. No soul. Heartless. They killed deliberately and with pleasure.

In Motyzhyn, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of kyiv, residents told AP that Russian troops killed the town’s mayor, her husband and son and dumped their bodies in a pit in a pine forest behind houses where Russian forces had slept.

Inside the pit, AP reporters saw four bodies of people who appeared to have been shot at close range. The mayor’s husband had his hands behind his back, with a piece of rope nearby and a piece of plastic wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has confirmed that the mayor was killed while in the custody of Russian forces.

Qena reported from Motyzhyn, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed.

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