International leaders condemned Russian military forces Sunday following reports of an alleged mass grave and graphic images of civilian killings in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv.
Russian troops this week retreated from the area near Kyiv following weeks of occupation. As Ukrainian soldiers regained control, Ukrainian leaders shared images of people fatally shot with their hands tied behind their backs left lying on the streets amid rubble. Journalists also reported evidence of atrocities and shared photos of civilians who had been killed.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, went live on Twitter on Sunday and said the images coming out of Bucha were "unspeakable" and devastating for Ukrainians.
"While we all have seen many painful videos and pictures in recent weeks since the beginning of the Russian large-scale invasion, nothing can be compared to what we've seen from Bucha," Kuleba said.
The images Kuleba shared on Twitter show bloody bodies, some with their hands tied behind their backs with white cloth, and faces half buried in dirt. In another photo, the body of a person is seen toppled over on their bike in the middle of the street.
Journalists with the Associated Press reported seeing the bodies of at least 21 people in various places around Bucha. One group of nine, all in civilian clothes, were scattered around a site that residents said Russian troops had used as a base during their occupation, the AP said. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs, and one of those was shot in the head; another person's legs were bound.
A CNN team at the scene of the mass grave reported that people were crying as they attempted to locate the bodies of loved ones in the grounds of the Church of St. Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints on Sunday. Residents told CNN that bodies were first thrown in the grave in the early days of the war and that they believed dozens of people, many of them civilians, were buried at the site.
Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said 410 civilian bodies have been recovered from areas around Kyiv that were recently retaken from Russian soldiers as part of investigations into war crimes.
Despite the photos and multiple independent reports, Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Telegram it was false that its military killed large numbers of civilians in Bucha and that during the time the area was under the control of its armed forces, not a single local resident suffered from any violent action.
Russia attempted to cast doubt on the authenticity of the photos and called the reports an orchestrated media campaign. Russia's Ministry of Defense suggested that artillery fire from Ukrainian forces after Russian troops withdrew could have resulted in civilian casualties.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN the images were a punch to the gut.
"The most important thing is, we can't become numb to this, we can't normalize this," Blinken said. "This is the reality of what's going on every single day as long as Russia's brutality against Ukraine continues; that's why it needs to come to an end."
The US will be looking into and documenting the alleged war crimes to make sure that relevant institutions, including the State Department, have all the information they need, Blinken said.
"There needs to be accountability," Blinken said.
In addition to the events in Bucha, Human Rights Watch on Sunday released a report documenting several cases of Russian military forces committing alleged war crimes against civilians in Ukraine between Feb. 27 and March 14. Among them was a summary execution in Bucha.
On March 4, Russian soldiers in Bucha rounded up five men, forced them to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their shirts over their heads, and shot one of them in the back of the head, a witness told Human Rights Watch.
A woman also told the organization that a Russian soldier repeatedly raped her in a school in the Kharkiv region, where she and her family had been sheltering, on March 13. She said the soldier beat her and cut her face, neck, and hair with a knife. The following day she fled to Kharkiv, where she was able to get medical attention and other services. Human Rights Watch reviewed two photographs the woman shared showing her facial injuries.
On March 6, Russian soldiers in the village of Vorzel, about 50 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, threw a smoke grenade into a basement, then shot a woman and a 14-year-old as they emerged from where they had been sheltering, the report continued. A man who was sheltering with her after the attack told Human Rights Watch she died from her wounds two days later in the same basement. The 14-year-old died immediately.
In the village of Staryi Bykiv, in the Chernihiv region, Russian forces rounded up at least six men on Feb. 27 and later executed them, the mother of one of the men told Human Rights Watch. She was nearby when her son and another man were apprehended, and later saw the dead bodies of all six.
Leaders in Europe joined Blinken on Sunday in condemning the reported war crimes. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said she was appalled by the reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing.
"An independent investigation is urgently needed," von der Leyen said on Twitter. "Perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable."
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also called for an investigation into Russia's alleged war crimes and said perpetrators must be held accountable.
Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, said that the images were unbearable and Russian President Vladimir Putin's violence was wiping out innocent families and knows no bounds. Germany will support Ukraine even more in its defense and tighten sanctions against Russia, she said.
"Those responsible for these war crimes must be held accountable," Baerbock said on Twitter.
Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, compared the killing of civilians in Bucha to Soviet and Nazi mass killings.
"This is not a battlefield, it’s a crime scene," she wrote on Twitter. "Mass killings of Ukrainian civilians by #Russia are clear war crimes."
Boris Johnson, prime minister of the UK, said Russia’s despicable attacks against innocent civilians in Bucha are more evidence that Putin and his army are committing war crimes in Ukraine.
"No denial or disinformation from the Kremlin can hide what we all know to be the truth — Putin is desperate, his invasion is failing, and Ukraine’s resolve has never been stronger," Johnson said on Twitter. "I will do everything in my power to starve Putin’s war machine."