A mass grave containing the remains of more than 400 ‘violently tortured’ people has been discovered outside the formerly Russian-occupied city of Izyum.
Officials counted 450 hastily dug graves, some marked by rough wooden crosses at the site in a pine forest only recently recaptured by Ukrainian fighters.
"Among the bodies that were exhumed today, 99 percent showed signs of violent death," Oleg Synegubov, head of Kharkiv regional administration, said on social media.
"There are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person is buried with a rope around his neck," he added.
"Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers," said Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Some of the remains exhumed included children and people who were likely tortured before dying, he added.
The European Union is "deeply shocked" at the newest discovery of a mass grave left by the Russians in the nearly seven-month-old war, said the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
"This inhuman behaviour by the Russian forces, in total disregard of international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions, must stop immediately," he said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the graves likely provided more evidence that Russia is committing war crimes in its pro-Western neighbor.
"This is part, horrifically," Blinken told reporters, "of an ongoing story whenever we see the Russian tide recede from the parts of Ukraine that it has occupied.”
Same city where Australian man murdered
Izyum is where Queensland man Jed William Danahay was killed on August 24 while working as a combat medic to assist injured frontline troops.
Mr Danahay, from East Nanango, was driving a medical vehicle at the time Russian troops targeted him.
His family said the 27-year-old was an essential part of his unit in Ukraine that everyone felt they could rely on.
"Jed’s comrades in Ukraine described him as the backbone of their unit, a hero and someone who they could all trust their lives to," the family said in the statement.
"Jed died doing what he believed in, helping people who needed it. He was at his heart an optimist and always believed that things should be better.
"He will be missed dearly by his friends and family."
Stench of rotting flesh
Reporters on the ground noted a strong smell of rotting flesh spreading among the trees as dozens of workers exhumed the bodies.
Where identification was possible, names were attached to rough wooden crosses standing in the soil.
At one spot, a family with a young child was buried, said Oleg Kotenko, the government official in charge of the search for missing persons nationwide.
"They were killed. There are witnesses from the same building. They saw what happened and buried these people here," he said.
"The graves without names are for those found dead in the street," he said.
Putin sticks to his guns
The grim discovery in Izyum added to the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, after his forces were driven into retreat in Kharkiv and are under heavy pressure from Ukrainian troops ion Donetsk and Kherson.
Putin, at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, was told by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that now was "not a time for war".
The discovery also came a day after Putin admitted that China, whose leader Xi Jinping was also attending the summit, had expressed "concerns" about the situation in Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded on February 24.
"I think what you're hearing from China, from India, is reflective of concerns around the world about the effects of Russia's aggression on Ukraine," Blinken said in Washington.
But Putin remained steadfast, despite strong evidence that his forces incurred heavy losses in the Ukraine counteroffensive this month, and as Washington announced another $600 million in arms and ammunition for Kyiv.
"The plan is not subject to adjustment," Putin said. "Our offensive operations in Donbas itself do not stop. They are going at a slow pace... the Russian army is occupying newer and newer territories."
Putin said the main goal of the campaign was "the liberation of the entire territory of Donbas”.
He accused Ukrainian forces of attempts to carry out "terrorist acts" and damage Russian civilian infrastructure.
"We are really quite restrained in our response to this, for the time being," Putin said. "If the situation continues to develop in this way, the response will be more serious.”
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