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Story Publication logo April 7, 2022

Investigators Find More Evidence of Russian War Crimes as the West Pledges Aid to Ukraine


Ukraine refugees flee to Hungary

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with "PBS NewsHour" to bring viewers the kind of reporting...


There were more revelations Thursday of the depth of carnage and devastation across northern Ukraine as Russian forces redeploy to the east. The collection of the dead continued throughout the region, as apparent orders by Russian forces to kill civilians surfaced from German intelligence. Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky report from a small village outside Kyiv.

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Amna Nawaz: Well, there were more revelations today of the depth of carnage and devastation across Northern Ukraine, as Russian forces redeployed to the east.

Elsewhere, the mayor of the southwestern port city of Mariupol said there were as many as 5,000 dead in his besieged city and roughly 100,000 civilians still trapped. Meanwhile, at NATO, foreign ministers met to discuss further military aid to Ukraine. And the United Nations took a rare vote to kick Russia off its Human Rights Council.

But we begin again tonight with special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky, reporting from a small village northwest of Kyiv, where the air is filled with fear and death.

And a warning: Some images in this report are disturbing.

Simon Ostrovsky: In Yahidne, Northern Ukraine, a mother's sorrow.

Woman (through translator): His eyes were covered.

Simon Ostrovsky: Today, volunteers have recovered the body of one of her sons shot during the Russian occupation of this village in the Chernihiv region.

Ludmila Shevchenko (ph) is too distraught to speak. Her younger son was last seen being led away blindfolded with his hands tied, accused by the occupying Russian force of helping Ukrainian troops direct their fire, we're told by Shevchenko's son-in-law.

Her younger son was found here, buried in his own garden by the soldiers who killed him. It's the sixth body recovered here in the last two days that's believed to be an execution.

Woman (through translator): A 12-year-old child, and her head's come off.

Simon Ostrovsky: As many as 20 villagers didn't survive the month the Russians were here, including a 12-year-old girl and her stepfather who died in their car as they tried to flee.

The rest of the villagers, nearly 380 people, were held against their will in the basement of the school, used as a human shield by Russian troops, who made it their headquarters.

Valentyna Shylo, Music Teacher (through translator): We were human shields. We could see that. We could see that clearly as they were shooting back and forth.

Simon Ostrovsky: The villagers were packed so tightly in the basement, 11 of its more frail residents didn't survive the month-long ordeal. They used buckets as toilets and were rarely allowed to go outside for fresh air.

Valentyna Shylo (through translator): They tried to make us learn the Russian national anthem. If you learn the Russian anthem, you can go home: Yes, we will let you go. And if you don't, you will have to stay here.

Simon Ostrovsky: "Did you do it?" I ask.

Valentyna Shylo (through translator): No. No one learned it. No one did.

Simon Ostrovsky: Valentyna Shylo is a music teacher here. She jokes that she's now put in double overtime at the school as she leads me into the dark cellar, where she and the others lived for weeks.

Valentyna Shylo (through translator): My little chair. I wrote the last names of some of the people who were here down.

As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund coverage of global conflicts. Help us continue funding the hard costs of in-depth coverage of the Ukraine invasion—including travel, hostile environment safety training, and the increased security expenses that arise from reporting in war zones.

Simon Ostrovsky: What we have here is really interesting and give us an insight into what Russian army life is like. This case is labeled "Military Political Preparedness."

In other words, these are ideological materials that the Russian soldiers used to prepare themselves and ready themselves for patriotism in serving their country. Apparently, the troops that occupied this village came from a Buddhist region. There is a book here from the Dalai Lama. There's Tuvan magazine. And there's a lot of other materials about patriotism in Russia, with the national anthem, important dates from military history and the military oath that soldiers are supposed to take.

The soldiers who came here apparently planned to stay for a long time. A local man shows us the classrooms Russian soldiers turn into their barracks, leaving behind cigarette butts, food wrappers, and feces.

Man (through translator): This is where they lived. Look at the state of this place. The officers were in there. This was their so-called rec room.

Simon Ostrovsky: They slept easier on these mattresses, knowing there were hundreds of civilians in the basement below them, he tells me.

Halyna, Yahidne Resident (through translator): The most upsetting thing was watching how they bring you water, as if they're helping you, in your own children's shoes. One Tuvan who brought me water was wearing sneakers from my apartment over there. It's painful to watch.

None of this was free. We built all of this with our own hands. Then they came, looted the place, destroyed it, and then punished us on top of that. We were being punished. So they wouldn't open the cellar. They blocked the doors.

Simon Ostrovsky: The war in Ukraine has been brutal from the start. The aerial bombings and shellings of civilian areas of cities by the Russian forces probably rises to the level of a war crime. But there's something about the evidence that has emerged over the last week of deliberate killings that has really galvanized the world's attention to what's happening here, because it can't be claimed that these deaths were an accident.

Far from these killing fields, foreign ministers met at NATO headquarters in Brussels today, pledging to send more military aid to Ukraine and bolster Europe's eastern flank.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Western leaders would remain united against Russia's invasion.

Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: The sickening images and accounts coming out of Bucha and other parts of Ukraine have only strengthened our collective resolve and unity. We're sustaining and building on pressure on the Kremlin and its enablers.

Simon Ostrovsky: Ahead of the meeting, Ukraine's top diplomat said his nation needs three things: weapons, weapons and weapons.

Later, Dmytro Kuleba added urgency.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister: Either you help us now — and I'm speaking about days, not weeks — or your help will come too late. And many people will die. Many civilians will lose their homes. Many villages will be destroyed, exactly because this help came too late.

Simon Ostrovsky: After two days of talks, European leaders said today they approved a fifth round of sanctions, including a historic ban on Russian coal imports. Expected to take effect in August, it's the bloc's first move to target Russian energy.

Western officials believe all Russian troops have now withdrawn from around Kyiv. But the eastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk are seeing the worst of the fighting. Officials expect a large offensive in the east in the next two weeks. In the north, the scale of Bucha's killings becomes grimmer with each passing day, authorities still working to gather evidence of possible war crimes.

Officials said at least 410 civilians were killed in towns near the capital. A German news organization reported today that German intelligence intercepted Russian military radio conversations discussing the crimes and orders to kill civilians. That contradicts Russian claims the killings were staged.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov again didn't change his posture in an interview with Britain's Sky News.

Dmitry Peskov, Spokesman for Vladimir Putin: It's a bold fake. It's a bold fake, and we have been speaking about them for a couple of days. But no one would listen to us.

Man: We shall now begin the voting process.

Simon Ostrovsky: But citing reports of human rights abuses, today, the U.N. General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the organization's human rights body.

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations: Russia is not only committing human rights violations. It is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Yahidne, Ukraine.

Amna Nawaz: And our reporting on the war in Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.


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