Ukraine war: mass graves found in liberated Izyum with victims of ‘torture’ - what have officials said?

Ukrainian troops moved into Izyum after regaining 3,000 square kilometres of ground in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine

Following the liberation of the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, officials have confirmed that mass graves has been found in the city Izyum.

The area had been Russian-controlled until Ukrainian troops regained the area on 9 September. Following the victory in Izyum, hundreds of wooden crosses were found in a forest on the outskirts of the city.

Here’s everything we know about what was found and what Ukrainian officials have confirmed so far.

Officials have confirmed that mass graves have been found nearby the recently liberated city of Izyum. (Credit: Getty Images)

What have officials said about mass graves in Izyum? 

The graves were initially found by Ukrainian forces which had been advancing through the region.

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A Ukrainian prosecutor has confirmed that they have found evidence of ‘torture’ to some of those buried within the grave.

The cause of deaths for others buried in the graves have not yet been confirmed, but it is expected that some will have been victims of shelling attacks and also a lack of healthcare access during the Russian occupation. Ihor Klymenko, the head of Ukraine’s national police service, told a press conference that no soldiers had been found in the graves as of yet, but soldiers were expected to be buried at the site.

Additionally, authorities confirmed they believed there were around 400 graves in the site. The United Nations has said it hopes to send a monitoring team to the area in the coming days to review the situation.

Following the exhumation of the graves, officials have so far found 146 bodies, with at least two children noted to be among those buried. Oleh Synehubov, governor of Kharkiv, said: “Some of the dead have signs of a violent death.

“There are bodies with tied hands and traces of torture. The deceased were also found to have explosive, shrapnel and stab wounds.”

What has Volodymyr Zelensky said about the situation?

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During his nightly address to Ukrainians, President Volodymyr Zelensky told residents that troops and officials had begun undertaking necessary procedures in the area, adding that “Russia leaves death everywhere”. He said: "We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to. Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izyum... Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for that."

Mass graves had been found in Bucha earlier this year. There were also reports of mass graves in Mariupol after satellite images showed a site around 12 miles outside the city.

Andriy Yermak, the head of President Zelensky’s office, shared an image of the graves from Izyum, adding: “A mass burial was found in Izyum, Kharkiv region. Necessary procedures have already begun. All bodies will be exhumed and sent for forensic examination. Expect more information tomorrow.

“Russia is a murderer country. A state sponsor of terrorism.”

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What happened in Izyum?

Izyum, located in the east of the country, is part of the Kharkiv Oblast region. Russia had taken control of the region following the Battle of Kharkiv, which ended in May 2022.

However, Ukrainian troops regained ground in the region in September following a strong counter-offensive. It came after a misdirection of an offensive in the south of the country, leaving the Kharkiv region exposed. Cities liberated in the operation included Izyum, Vovchansk and Kupiansk.

Russian troops withdrew from the area, however Igor Konashenkov of the Russian Defence Ministry said: “A decision was made to regroup Russian troops”. The victory in re-taking parts the region has ignited Ukraine’s strength in the conflict, but Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, admitted that Ukraine was expecting Russia to fight back, stating forces had to “be ready to defend” the liberated region.