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Ukrainians report evidence of human rights abuses, including mass burial sites

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukrainian officials say they have found mass graves in the territory that Ukrainian forces took back from Russia. The burial sites around Kharkiv may hold hundreds of bodies. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Ukrainian military officials say a single burial site discovered in a forest just outside Izium holds 440 graves. Photos released by the armed forces show mounds of earth amidst the trees marked with simple wooden crosses. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his nightly address, said the site is being investigated by forensic experts, and the exact number of people buried there will be more clear in the coming days. But Zelenskyy said the newly found mass graves in Izium are part of a pattern in areas that Russian forces have occupied.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

BEAUBIEN: Zelenskyy said, "Izium now unfortunately joins Bucha and Mariupol as a site of mass casualties under Russian occupation." "Russia leaves death everywhere," he said. And he demanded that Moscow be held accountable for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians. Exactly who is in these graves in Izium is still unclear. Journalists from the Associated Press who visited the site yesterday said one grave had a marker saying it held 17 Ukrainian soldiers. National police officials say they believe civilians who were killed in shelling of the city are also buried there. Over the last week, a rapid counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces routed Russian troops in the area. It was a stunning defeat for Moscow and the largest military success so far for Kyiv since repelling Russian forces from the capital.

As Ukrainian officials and international journalists gain access to recently liberated villages and towns, they're hearing widespread allegations of torture, killings and other abuses by the occupying forces. Residents in one village that had been under Russian control since February told us that men who tried to escape back to Ukrainian-held territory were killed and strung up in an adjacent forest. So far, NPR can't verify these accounts. But Oleh Synyehubov, the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, speaking through an interpreter in the village of Verbivka (ph) earlier this week, said that each mass grave will be carefully exhumed by forensic investigators.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That's our colleague Jason Beaubien, who is reporting today from Kharkiv in Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.