KYIV – Evidence that Russian troops killed dozens of civilians in Ukraine has prompted cries of “war crimes” from the international community and calls for further action against Moscow, which called the reports ” provocation”.
US President Joe Biden on April 4 called for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him a war criminal and saying he planned to seek more sanctions against Russia.
“This guy is brutal…what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” Biden said, referring to the Ukrainian town where Russian forces allegedly killed dozens of civilians. Putin “is a war criminal”.
Speaking outside the White House on April 4, Biden said more evidence should be gathered for use in a war crimes trial.
Biden’s comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Bucha, a town outside Kyiv where Ukrainian officials said bodies of civilians had been found. Zelenskiy called the Russian actions “genocide” and called on the West to apply tougher sanctions against Russia.
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While touring the area on the northwestern edge of kyiv, Zelenskiy, wearing a bulletproof vest and accompanied by soldiers, spoke to the nation on television, saying such scenes made it harder to sit down at a table with Russia and negotiate an end to the unprovoked war launched by Moscow last month.
“Every day when our fighters enter and retake the territory, you see what happens,” the Ukrainian leader said.
“These are war crimes and will be recognized by the world as genocide,” Zelenskiy said, adding that he expected evidence of similar crimes to be found in other occupied regions after Russian forces will have been expelled.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also predicted that evidence of civilian killings would be found in other towns occupied by Russian forces.
“The horrors we saw in Bucha are just the tip of the iceberg of all the crimes (which) were committed by the Russian military,” Kuleba told a news conference in Warsaw alongside British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
“Half measures are no longer enough. I demand the toughest penalties this week, it is the plea of the victims of rape and murder. If you have any doubts about the penalties, go to Bucha first.”
Moscow has denied the allegations, with several senior Kremlin officials describing them as a “provocation” intended to discredit Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We categorically reject all allegations.”
He added that Russia was asking for a meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to what Moscow called “Ukrainian provocations”. Britain, which currently holds the Security Council presidency, said the body would discuss Ukraine at its already scheduled session on April 5.
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry had also claimed, without evidence, that Bucha’s footage was “another staging of the kyiv regime” and that all Russian forces had left the city on March 30.
On April 4, the Russian Investigative Committee announced an “investigation” into the accusation that Ukraine had spread “deliberately false information” about the actions of Russian forces in Bucha.
WATCH: RFE/RL correspondent Levko Stek visited Bucha on April 3 shortly after it was liberated by Ukrainian forces, witnessed the carnage in the streets and spoke to locals about what happened there pass.
Earlier on April 4, the European Union started discussions new sanctions against Russia following reports of atrocities, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, with some members of the bloc calling for restrictions on imports of Russian energy supplies.
“We stand in full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in these dark times for the whole world,” Borrell said, calling the drafting of new sanctions “an emergency.”
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told her country’s state broadcaster ARD that European officials “should talk about cutting off gas supplies to Russia”, even though German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has previously resisted sanctions targeting Russian energy exports.
As Russian forces withdrew from areas around Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, reports emerged that hundreds of civilians had been shot and thrown into mass graves or left on the streets of Kyiv’s suburb of Bucha.
Photographs showing the bodies of dead civilians with their hands tied have shocked many and sparked calls for tougher sanctions against Russia and criminal prosecutions of the perpetrators.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the photographs from Bucha and other regions “raise grave and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, serious violations of international law humanitarian action and serious violations of international human rights law”.
Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called for an “international commission to investigate this crime of genocide”. He also joined calls for “clear and determined sanctions” against Russia.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield has called on the General Assembly to “remove” Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, calling the Russian presence a “farce”.
Other countries around the world have also condemned the alleged atrocities and called for action against Russia.
“Reports of Ukrainian civilians being killed, raped and seriously injured by Russian troops are beyond reprehensible,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters in Wellington on April 4.
“Russia must answer to the world for what it has done,” she added, saying her government would discuss further steps to support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the reported incidents “violations of international law”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in an April 4 radio interview that there are indications that Russian forces committed “war crimes” in Bucha.
“What happened in Bucha requires a new round of sanctions and very clear measures,” Macron said, adding that additional sanctions should target Russian coal and oil exports.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the same day that Russian forces may have gone so far as to commit “genocide” in Bucha.
“We will do everything so that those who perpetrated these war crimes do not go unpunished,” Sanchez said in Madrid.
Ukrainian President Zelenskiy blasted April 3, accusing Russian forces of committing “genocide” in the city and told Kremlin leaders they should come to Bucha to see what their army had done.
WATCH: Russian forces have been accused of committing atrocities in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital. Bodies of civilians were seen lying in the streets as Ukrainian troops took up positions on the outskirts of kyiv after a Russian withdrawal.
A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service saw the bodies of what appeared to be civilians strewn in the streets of the small town on April 2. In one place, the correspondent saw up to 10 bodies on the street.
AP reporters saw the bodies of at least 21 people at various locations around Bucha. The bodies of a group of nine people – all in civilian clothes – were strewn on the ground near a site locals said Russian forces had used as a base. The victims appeared to have been killed at close range.
In total, Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians were found in the area around kyiv that was controlled by Russian forces until last week.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Putin justified the assault by saying that Moscow intended to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine.