BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces were preparing for an offensive in southeastern Ukraine on Tuesday, the Ukrainian military said as President Volodymyr Zelensky prepared to talk to the UN Security Council amid outrage over evidence that Moscow soldiers were deliberately killing civilians.
The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending soldiers to eastern Ukraine to gain control of an industrial center known as the Donbass. This came after Russia withdrew from cities around the capital, Kyiv, which led to the discovery of corpses, sparking war crimes charges and demanding tougher sanctions against Moscow.
Russian forces are focused on capturing the cities of Papasna and Rubezhnoye in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the Black Sea port of Mariupol, the General Staff said on its Facebook page. Donetsk and Luhansk are controlled by Russian-backed separatists and recognized by Moscow as independent states. The General Staff said access to Kharkiv in the east, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had been blocked.
“The enemy is regrouping troops and concentrating its efforts on preparing an offensive operation in the east of our country,” the statement said. “The goal is to establish full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”
Speaking from Ukraine, Zelensky planned to address Security Council diplomats on Tuesday amid demands to investigate possible war crimes.
Germany and France responded by expelling dozens of Russian diplomats, believing they were spies. President Joe Biden has said Putin should be tried for war crimes.
“This guy is brutal, and what’s going on in Bucha is outrageous,” Biden said, referring to the city northwest of the capital, which has been the scene of some horrors.
Before Zelensky speaks, the most powerful UN body must inform Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; its political leader Rosemary DiCarlo; and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, who is trying to organize a ceasefire. On Monday, Griffiths met with Russian officials in Moscow and is due to visit Ukraine.
Journalists from the Associated Press in Bucha counted dozens of corpses in civilian clothes and apparently unarmed, many shot at close range and some with their hands tied or bodies burned.
After touring the Bucha neighborhoods and talking to hungry survivors standing in line for bread, Zelensky promised in a video that Ukraine would work with the European Union and the International Criminal Court to identify Russian fighters involved in any atrocities.
“There will come a time when every Russian will learn the whole truth about who killed their fellow citizens, who ordered, who turned a blind eye to the murders,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the scenes near Kiev as a “regulated anti-Russian provocation.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the images contained “signs of video forgery and various forgeries.”
Russia has dismissed previous allegations of atrocities as fabrications by Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said the bodies of at least 410 civilians had been found in cities around Kyiv that had been repulsed by Russian troops.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office called one of the rooms found in Bucha a “torture chamber”. The statement said that the bodies of five men with their hands tied were found in the basement of a children’s sanatorium, where civilians were tortured and killed.
Among the bodies seen by AP reporters in Bucha were at least 13 in and around the building, which locals say was used by Russian troops as a base. Three more bodies were found on the landing, and a group of six people were burned together.
Among the dead witnessed by journalists of the news agency were also bodies wrapped in black plastic, dumped at one end of a mass grave in the Bucha churchyard. Many of these victims were killed in cars or killed in explosions that tried to flee the city. With a full morgue and inability to reach the cemetery, the only place to store the dead was a graveyard, said Father Andrew Golovin.
Tanya Nedashkivskaya said she buried her husband in the garden near their house after he was detained by the Russian military. His body was one of those left on the stairwell.
“Please do something!” she said. “This is what I say, Ukrainian, Ukrainian, mother of two children and one grandson. May there be peace on Earth for all wives and mothers, so that no one will ever grieve again. ”
Another Bucha resident, Uladzimir Pilhutski, said his neighbor Pavel Vlasenko was taken away by the Russian military because the military-type trousers he wore and the uniform he said belonged to his son, a security guard, looked suspicious. When Vlasenka’s body was later found, there were traces of fireworks burns on it, his neighbor said.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, insisted at a news conference on Monday that “no locals have been affected by the violence since Bucha was under Russian control.”
However, high-resolution satellite imagery taken by commercial supplier Maxar Technologies showed that many bodies lay in the open for several weeks while Russian forces were in Bucha. The New York Times reported for the first time on satellite imagery showing the dead.
Western and Ukrainian leaders have previously accused Russia of war crimes. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has already launched an investigation. But recent reports have heightened condemnation.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbok said the footage from Bucha showed “the incredible brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has said Bucha has “clear evidence of war crimes” that requires new punitive measures.
“I am in favor of a new round of sanctions, in particular on coal and petrol. We need to act, ”he told France-Inter radio.
Although the European allies were united in outrage, they looked divided on how to respond. While Poland called on Europe to quickly wean itself off Russian energy resources, Germany said it would take a gradual approach to phasing out coal and oil imports over the next few months.
Russia withdrew much of its forces from the area around Kiev after its attempt to quickly seize the capital was thwarted. Instead, it introduced troops to southeastern Ukraine.
About two-thirds of Russian troops around Kyiv have left and are either in Belarus or on their way there, probably receiving more supplies and reinforcements, said a senior US Defense Department spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments.
More than 1,500 civilians were able to escape from Mariupol on Monday, using fewer private cars to leave, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk said. The besieged southern port city was one of the hardest battles of the war.
But during the fighting, a convoy of buses accompanied by the Red Cross, which had been stopped for several days to deliver materials and evacuate residents, was unable to reach the city again, Verashchuk said.
Elsewhere, Russian shelling in the southern city of Mykolaiv has killed 11 people, regional governor Vitaly Kim said in a video message on social media.
Zelensky called for more weapons as Russia prepares new offensives.
“If we had what we needed – all these planes, tanks, artillery, anti-missile and anti-ship weapons – we could save thousands of people,” he said.
Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Ukraine; Edith Lederer at the United Nations; Lolita Baldor of Washington and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine