Written by Adam Shrek, Robert Burns and Esika Fish
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – The bodies of more than 900 civilians have been found in the region around the Ukrainian capital since Russia’s withdrawal – most of them fatally shot, police said on Friday, suggesting many people were “just punished”.
The staggering figure came shortly after Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to step up missile strikes on Kyiv in response to Ukraine’s alleged attacks on Russian territory. The ominous warning came after the staggering loss of Moscow’s flagship in the Black Sea, which a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday had indeed been hit by at least one Ukrainian missile.
Against the background of its threats, Moscow continued to prepare for a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine. Fighting also continued in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol, where locals reported seeing Russian soldiers digging up bodies. Seven people, including a 7-month-old child, were killed and 34 were injured in a shelling of a residential area in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said.
In Kiev, the head of the capital’s regional police Andrei Nebytov said that the bodies are thrown in the streets or give temporary burials. He cited police data showing that 95% died from gunshot wounds.
“Thus, we understand that during the (Russian) occupation, people were simply shot in the streets,” Nebytov said.
He added that more and more bodies are found under the rubble and in mass graves every day, with the largest number found in Bucha, where there were more than 350.
According to Nebytov, public service officers in Bucha collected and buried the bodies in the suburbs of Kyiv while it remained under Russian control. Russian troops, he added, are “tracking down” people who have expressed strong pro-Ukrainian views.
Kyiv can expect more violence after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of injuring seven people and damaging about 100 homes as a result of air strikes in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Authorities in another Russian border region also reported shelling of Ukraine on Thursday.
“The number and scale of missile strikes on facilities in Kiev will increase due to the fact that the Kiev nationalist regime is carrying out any terrorist attacks or sabotage in Russia,” – said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kanashenko.
Russia has used missiles to destroy a facility to repair and manufacture missile systems in Kiev, Kanashenko said.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the strike on targets in Russia, and these reports cannot be verified independently.
However, Ukrainian officials said their forces had launched a missile strike on a key Russian warship. A senior U.S. defense official backed the statement, saying the United States now believes Moscow was shot down by at least one and possibly two Neptune missiles. Earlier, the Pentagon said it could not confirm the cause of the large fire aboard the missile cruiser. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence assessment.
Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine based on a former Soviet design.
“Moscow”, named after the Russian capital, sank during a tow to the port on Thursday, receiving severe damage. Although Moscow has not acknowledged any attack, saying only that the fire detonated ammunition on board, the loss of the ship represents an important victory for Ukraine and a symbolic defeat for Russia.
The last time such a large warship sank in battle was in 1982, when a British submarine torpedoed an Argentine fleet cruiser called the ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands War, killing more than 300 sailors.
The sinking reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea, although military analysts disagreed on the significance of the event for the course of the war. In any case, the loss was seen as a symbol of Moscow’s fate during the eight-week invasion, which was widely seen as a historic mistake after the retreat from the Kiev region and much of northern Ukraine.
The “flagship” Russian warship is a worthy place for diving. Now we have another place for diving in the Black Sea. We will definitely visit the wreckage after our victory in the war, ”Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov boasted on Friday.
Russia’s warning about the resumption of air strikes has not prevented the people of Kiev to take advantage of a sunny and slightly warmer spring Friday with the approach of the weekend. More people than usual were on the streets, walking dogs, riding electric scooters and walking hand in hand.
In one of the central parks, a small group of people, including a woman in the Ukrainian flag, danced to the music of a portable speaker.
The resumed bombing could mean a return to the steady howls of air raid sirens heard in the early days of the invasion, and to the horrific nights lurking at subway stations. Certain signs of pre-war life reappeared in the capital after Russian troops failed to capture the city and retreated to concentrate in eastern Ukraine, leaving behind evidence of possible war crimes.
News of “Moscow” overshadowed Russia’s claims to attacks in the southern port city of Mariupol, which Moscow forces have blocked since the first days of the invasion. The number of Ukrainian defenders who survived the siege, which cost a terrible price for civilians dying of hunger, is decreasing.
This week, the mayor of Mariupol said the death toll in the city could exceed 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials said they expected to find evidence in Mariupol of atrocities similar to those found in Bucha and other cities outside of Kiev.
On Friday, the Mariupol City Council reported that locals had seen Russian servicemen dig up bodies buried in backyards and prevent new burials of “people killed by them.”
“It is unknown why the exhumation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken,” the council said in a telegram exchange program.
Fighting continued in industrial areas and the port, and Russia for the first time used a long-range Tu-22M3 bomber to attack the city, said Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Matuzyanik.
The capture of Mariupol would allow Russian troops in the south, who came out through the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully unite with troops in the Donbass region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial center and the impending offensive.
It is unknown when Russia will launch a full-scale campaign.
Moscow-backed separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized the independence of two areas of the region that are under rebel control.
Also Friday, a Ukrainian regional official said seven people were killed and 27 wounded after Russian troops opened fire on buses carrying civilians in the village of Borovaya near the northeastern city of Kharkiv. An independent verification of the claim failed.
A spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, Dmitry Chubenko, told the Ukrainian news site Public that Ukrainian authorities had opened a criminal case on suspicion of “violating the laws or customs of war combined with premeditated murder.”
A large explosion also erupted in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where a week earlier a rocket attack on a train station killed more than 50 people as thousands listened to warnings of evacuation from the Donbass area waiting to leave.
Journalists of the Associated Press in Kramatorsk heard the sound of a rocket or a rocket, then an explosion, and on Friday sirens sounded. It was not immediately clear what was injured and whether there were any victims. The day before, an air strike was carried out on a factory in the same city.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Russian strikes in the Kharkiv region “eliminated a detachment of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” numbering up to 30 people and “liberated” the metallurgical plant in Mariupol. An independent verification of the claims failed.
Fish reported from Kramatorsk. Burns was reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters around the world have contributed to this report.
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