Sept. 16 (UPI) — Ukrainian authorities say that a burial site with at least 440 unmarked graves has been found in a city in eastern Ukraine, which was recently among the many areas retaken from Russian forces.
Ukraine’s ministry of defense announced the discovery via Twitter on Thursday, stating the mass graves were found in the eastern city of Izyum days after the city was liberated.
The ministry posted pictures showing wooden crosses planted upon mounds of earth spread around a forest.
Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications said the graves belonged mostly to civilians and were “fresh.”
“This is not a ‘special military operation,’ but a series of horrendous crimes against humanity,” the center said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the invasion in February as a “special military operation” that was launched to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
During his nightly public address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said necessary actions are being taken concerning the newly found graves, and more information about them would be available Friday.
The graves aren’t the first to be found since the fighting began Feb. 24. Others in central and southern Ukraine were turned up weeks ago.
“We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to,” he said. “Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izyum. Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for that.”
Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s office, added that all bodies will be exhumed and forensically examined.
“Russia is a murderer country. A state sponsor of terrorism,” he said.
Serhii Bolvinov, chief police investigator in Kharkiv, the region where Izyum is located, told Sky News that the burial site is one of the largest so far to be found in a single liberated city. Some of the victims died by gunshots to the head and other deaths were caused by artillery fire or airstrikes.
“Also, we have information that a lot of bodies have not been identified yet. So the reasons of death will be established during the investigations,” he said.
The mass graves sparked outrage from world leaders, who have called for those responsible to be held to account.
“Brutality and endless human suffering, impossible to put in words the horror Russian soldiers leave behind in Ukraine,” Estonian President Alar Karis tweeted. “Izyum mass grave is another proof of war crimes. Our duty is to ensure accountability, we’ll not rest before those responsible will be brought to justice.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called on the public to not turn away from the images showing liberated areas of Ukraine, including the graves in Izyum, as they are “the face of Russian occupation.”
“Ukraine has used our military aid with skill and determination,” she said. “Ukraine can win if we keep supporting them.”
Zelensky and other officials say a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive covering the northeast and the south has retaken thousands of square miles from Russian forces since the beginning of September.