The bodies of more than 500 civilians were discovered in an area in north-eastern Ukraine recently retaken by Russian forces, Ukrainian police said.
And as Ukrainian forces liberate more land in the northeast, new burial sites are being uncovered in Donetsk. Many appear to contain the remains of civilians who lost their lives during several months of shelling and rocket fire.
“We found the bodies of 534 civilians from the occupied territories,” said Serhii Bolnivov, head of the investigative department of the regional police, in the Kharkiv region alone.
The bodies included 226 women and 19 children, Bolvinov added.
Most of those recovered – 447 – were found at what he described as a “mass grave site” of Izium, which Ukrainian troops liberated from Russian occupation in early September. Russian troops had used Izium as a launch pad for attacks south into the Donetsk region.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh visited the site in mid-September.
Bolvinov also claimed that more than twenty suspected Russian “torture chambers” have been found in the region.
“In almost all major cities where military units of the Russian army were stationed, they set up such detention centers for civilians and prisoners of war and tortured them,” he said, mentioning one in the city of Pisky-Radkivski.
“This is the 22nd torture chamber that we found and inspected in the occupied territory of Kharkiv region,” Bolvinov said.
He said the most common torture techniques are electric shocks and severe beatings with sticks and other objects. There have also been cases of nails being pulled out and gas masks being used to restrict breathing.
Bolvinov said there was also an ongoing criminal case over rape allegations.
“We understand that it is very difficult for victims to testify about such facts. However, there are cases that we have filed, there are appeals from women who have been raped. We have information about alleged rapes in torture chambers,” Bolvinov added.
The Ukrainian investigation in Kharkiv follows the discovery of gross human rights violations by Russian forces north of Kyiv in March.
Russia was accused of a litany of war crimes during its unsuccessful campaign to capture Kiev in the first months of the war. After the withdrawal from Bucha, a suburb of the Ukrainian capital, reports surfaced of Russian troops carrying out summary and indiscriminate executions. Bodies were found shot, tied up and left to rot, some with marks of torture. In nearby Borodianka, dead civilians were found strewn on the streets. Homes were reportedly searched.
Moscow has consistently denied that its soldiers are responsible for war crimes. In Bucha, the Kremlin claimed – without evidence – that the atrocities there were staged. However, witnesses speaking to CNN said the slaughter in the city began after it was occupied.
A report released in July by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that patterns of violence by Russian forces in Ukraine qualify as crimes against humanity.