Bodies found in makeshift burial in Ukraine show signs of torture: Reporter's notebook

·2 min read

It is a primeval scene. Neat rows of wooden crosses. There is little dignity for the dead in this makeshift burial site in the forest.

Names are noticeably absent from almost all of the wooden crosses. Instead, they are marked with three-digit numbers.

The true extent of the atrocities allegedly carried out by Russian soldiers and officials in Izium, a city in the northeasterly Kharkiv region, is still emerging. Izium was occupied by the Russians for nearly six months.

In total there are 440 wooden crosses, but no one knows yet how many bodies lie in the ground in these unmarked graves.

PHOTO: Experts work at a forest grave site during an exhumation in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 18, 2022.  (Umit Bektas/Reuters)
PHOTO: Experts work at a forest grave site during an exhumation in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 18, 2022. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

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On Sunday Ukrainian forensic teams exhumed 50 more bodies. An official involved in the investigations told ABC News that 16 of those 50 victims were killed violently.

One of the victims had been stabbed multiple times and four victims were found in the same grave, according to officials.

By a large pit is a cross with words written in Russian: "Ukrainian Armed Forces, 17 men from the morgue."

PHOTO: Experts work at a forest grave site during an exhumation in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 18, 2022. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)
PHOTO: Experts work at a forest grave site during an exhumation in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 18, 2022. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Ukrainian investigators told ABC News that one of the bodies of the men found in that mass grave had signs of torture. A forensic team dug up the badly decomposed body. Officials invited journalists to witness the exhumation process on Friday.

It was immediately clear that the man’s hands were bound with rope behind his back.

Bending down, in his white plastic overalls and boots, the lead investigator called out his initial findings.

There was flesh missing from the dead man’s right arm and signs that his clothes had been burnt and he had a cut around his genitals.

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A very small number of the graves do have names and the dates of birth and death.

There were graves of two young girls, ages 6 and 9.

Local officials said some of the victims buried at the site had been shot and many of them showed signs of injury from shrapnel.

They said the Russians ruled through fear. Images of makeshift prisons and alleged torture chambers are emerging.

In the spring, Ukrainians uncovered mass atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv. Russian forces had occupied Bucha only briefly but left behind horrifying scenes of chaos and death, leading to international condemnation of alleged Russian war crimes. Concerns are now mounting that if Ukrainians reclaim more territory from Russian forces, something similar may be expected again. For now, authorities will continue the grim task of trying to identify the dead.

Despite evidence including satellite imagery, CCTV video and testimony by victims, some of it obtained and verified by ABC News, Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of war crimes, even on occasion calling genuine photos and videos of dead victims "fakes."

Bodies found in makeshift burial in Ukraine show signs of torture: Reporter's notebook originally appeared on abcnews.go.com