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Dead civilians reported north of Kyiv as Russian troops back off from area

MILES PARKS, HOST:

Horrifying images are coming out of northern Ukraine as Ukrainian forces clear areas that up until recently were occupied by Russian troops. And I should warn you, some of the descriptions we're about to hear are very upsetting. Numerous civilians have been found dead along roadsides and amid the wreckage of towns north of Kyiv. NPR's Nathan Rott is in the Ukrainian capital, and he joins us now. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Miles. Good to talk to you.

PARKS: Good to talk to you, too. Can you tell us a little bit more about what we're seeing from these recently vacated areas?

ROTT: Yeah. So Ukrainian troops and journalists are entering some of these towns that have been occupied by Russia for much of the war, for the first time, really, in weeks. Ukraine's military posted videos of what appears to be dead civilians in a number of settings in the town of Bucha. That is a little north from where I am now. And the images are very graphic. Some of the bodies are badly burnt. Some appear to have their hands tied behind their backs. It is very hard to look at.

PARKS: And is the presumption that these were people killed by Russian troops?

ROTT: That is the presumption. Russia is denying this. They say that these images are fake. That is something they have claimed frequently throughout this war. I actually just talked to an American who has been working in one of the foreign legions here who said he spent the last three days cleaning up bodies in Bucha. And when I asked him about the Russian claim that these were fakes, he said they most definitely are not fakes. And he did have pictures to prove it.

What is clear, what seems to be clear is that a lot of civilians have lost their lives, right? Ukraine's office of the secretary general says the bodies of 410 civilians have already been recovered in just the Kyiv region. And there are still many places that have not yet been searched. That number, we should say, has not been verified by journalists. That's the - Ukraine's office of secretary general. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it a genocide earlier today, and Western leaders are calling these images everything from a gut punch to unbearable. The United Nations secretary general released a statement saying it is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.

PARKS: But what would that accountability actually look like?

ROTT: So that's a good question, Miles. I mean, Ukrainians would certainly like to see it take the shape of more Western support in terms of, you know, heavier weapons, anti-air systems, some of the things they've been asking for for weeks. Ukraine's foreign minister posted a plea on social media earlier today calling on the G-7 to further strengthen sanctions against Russia. Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, released a report earlier today saying it had documented apparent war crimes. The report is based on interviews with local eyewitnesses and victims. And it describes numerous laws of war violations, including - I should say here, Miles, these are - this is going to sound upsetting - incidents of repeated rape, summary execution and other violence against civilians.

PARKS: That is horrible. But we're talking about - these are incidences that are happening in places that fighting has kind of slowed down. Can you tell us a little bit more about the other parts of the country where there is still a lot of active fighting?

ROTT: Yeah. Yeah. So particularly in the east and south Ukraine, a lot of fighting is ongoing. Humanitarian aid convoys are still trying to get into Mariupol. That's a city of about 450,000 people on the southern coast. It's unclear how many civilians are still there, but the footage and reports that we're seeing from there suggest even more damage than what we've seen so far north of Kyiv. In Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine, a regional prosecutor is saying seven more people were killed by Russian shelling today, and there's ongoing missile strikes around the country that are targeting military installations, fuel depots and the country's infrastructure. The air alarms here in Kyiv have been going off all night. And so while the sense is that even though Russian troops appear to be backing off of their attempts to take the capital, where I am now, they still want to inflict as much damage on Ukraine as they can.

PARKS: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in the Ukrainian capital. Thanks, Nate.

ROTT: Hey, thanks, Miles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.