U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply condemned Russia on Sunday, accusing it of committing war atrocities in Ukraine as the world saw its first glimpse of the bodies of dead Ukrainians left behind in the streets of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha after Russian troops departed the area.
“You can’t help but feel a punch to the gut,” the top U.S. diplomat told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “We cannot become numb to this. We cannot normalize this.”
Blinken said the United States would be “looking hard to document” Russian war crimes throughout Ukraine even as Ukraine claims it has retaken control of the north-central region around the capital. Moscow’s troops have pulled back from the Kyiv territory to concentrate new attacks in southern Ukrainian cities along the Black Sea and in the contested Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Reflecting on the bodies found in the streets, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show, “Indeed. This is genocide.” He said Ukraine is being “destroyed and exterminated” by Russian forces.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN, “It is a brutality against citizens we have not seen in decades” in Europe. “It is (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin’s responsibility to end the war.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter, “I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that the EU must be prepared to put more sanctions on Russia in response to the reported killing of civilians.
Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said Sunday that authorities have found 410 bodies in and around Kyiv, during an investigation concerning possible war crimes committed by Russia. Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova, said, however, that witnesses would have to be interviewed later because they are too traumatized by what they saw to speak now, according to a Reuters report.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch’s director of Europe and Central Asia said, in a statement that “The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians.” Hugh Williamson said, “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”
In a surprise videotaped appearance at the Grammys, the annual ceremony in the U.S. honoring the year’s top musicians, President Zelenskyy asked the gathering for help.
“Support us in any way you can. Any, but not silence,” he said. “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos, they sing to the wounded, in hospitals, even to those who can't hear them.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry contended in a statement Sunday that it had not killed civilians in Bucha and claimed that video footage and photographs showing the dead were “yet another provocation” by the West. Russia asked the U.N. Security Council to convene a meeting Monday to discuss the actions of “Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha.
However, Britain, which chairs the Security Council this month, said there would be no meeting Monday and that the issue could be discussed at the meeting on Ukraine already scheduled for Tuesday.
Both Blinken and Stoltenberg voiced skepticism about the immediate implications of the Russian military pullback from fighting near Kyiv, which Moscow once appeared to think might be captured within days of launching its February 24 invasion of eastern Ukraine and aerial bombardment of numerous targets.
“They could be regrouping and then coming back to Kyiv,” Blinken said, but added that the resistance of the Ukrainian fighters over the last five-plus weeks has shown that “the will of the Ukrainian people will not be subjected to occupation” by Russia.
Stoltenberg said, “This is not a real withdrawal but a shift in strategy to the east and south.”
Blinken said Western economic sanctions are taking a toll on Russia and predicted its economy would shrink 10% this year compared to a projected 3% year-over-year U.S. advance. He said the U.S. and its allies are looking to tighten sanctions they have already imposed on Russia and add more.
Blinken is traveling to Brussels for meetings this week with other NATO foreign ministers, looking to highlight the military alliance’s resolve to hold Russia responsible for continued fighting in Ukraine.
The Reuters news agency reports that Ukraine has “retaken more than 30 towns and villages around Kyiv.”
Zelenskyy, however, warned that what Russia has left behind in Kyiv and its nearby areas is a “complete disaster,” a territory with mined land, houses and equipment. The president claimed even the bodies of the dead have been mined.
In the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol Sunday, residents continued to wait for an International Committee of the Red Cross humanitarian convoy designed to evacuate residents and bring humanitarian aid. The Associated Press reports that as many as 100,000 people are thought to be trapped in the city that has been surrounded by Russian troops for more than a month.