Aerial images that appear to show a mass grave in the grounds of a Ukrainian church have been released as outrage grows over alleged Russian atrocities in areas occupied and then abandoned by its forces.
Maxar Technologies, a US company which provides satellite photos of the war in Ukraine, said its images showed what looked like a 14-metre trench dug in the town of Bucha, where corpses were found on the streets after Russian forces withdrew.
It said the first signs of excavation had appeared outside the Church of St Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints on March 10 and developed into an apparent grave site by the end of last week.
Although not independently verified, the aerial images follow numerous reports of atrocities in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, which have sparked international condemnation and were described by Ukraine as a massacre.
Widely shared images of bodies led to accusations of war crimes and raised fears over what horrors might be found in other towns still controlled by Russian forces.
Ukraine says the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in the Kyiv region, where Russia paused on its offensive last week in an apparent repositioning of troops.
Russian forces remain determined to seize the southern city of Mariupol as they reorganise their invasion to focus on the south and east of the country, British military intelligence said on Monday.
The UK’s Defence Ministry said in a regular intelligence update that heavy fighting was continuing in Mariupol and that the southern port was “subject to intense, indiscriminate strikes”.
Capturing the city is “almost certainly a key objective” of the invasion because it would secure a land corridor between the annexed Crimean peninsula and Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, it said.
Mariupol and Bucha have become symbols of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine as the alleged massacres by Russian forces prompt calls for tougher sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used an address late on Sunday to describe the invading troops as murderers and invite Russian civilians and western politicians to see the war zone for themselves.
“I invite Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions of Russia has led to,” he said, referring to the former leaders of Germany and France.
But he said Ukrainian forces were working to “bring life back” to Bucha by rebuilding infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies and medical facilities.
Reuters said its journalists had visited the town at the weekend and seen bodies lying on the streets and limbs poking through clay that was heaped over a mass grave.
The UN said it was “highly concerned” by images emerging from the region, although it said it could not rule out that some of the dead were fighters or people who died of other causes.
Some diplomats spoke of war crimes. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki went further on Monday by saying: “This is genocide and it must be judged.”
Moscow denied everything, saying the images of dead bodies were a provocation by Ukraine and that no civilians had been harmed.
Russian diplomats want to discuss the issue at the UN Security Council as the war drags into a seventh week with Moscow’s forces still controlling large sections of the country.
“Russian troops still control the occupied areas of other regions. And after the expulsion of the occupiers, even worse things can be found there,” Mr Zelenskyy said.
Britain said Russia’s forces were refocusing their offensive on the eastern Donbas region, with mercenaries from the shadowy Wagner Group apparently being moved into the region.
Western officials believe Wagner is closely linked to the Kremlin and likely to be used to limit official Russian casualties in Ukraine.