(CN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday accused Russian troops of allegedly killing hundreds of civilians in towns and villages outside Kyiv before they withdrew in recent days.
The accusations of civilian massacres — as seen in widely shared videos and photographs — were presented on Sunday and led to widespread condemnation by Western leaders, who vowed to impose even more sanctions on Russia. European leaders said they will consider an embargo on Russian oil and natural gas. The town of Bucha northwest of Kyiv was allegedly the scene of the most numerous crimes so far discovered.
On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden again called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal who needs to be put on trial.
Calls are growing for Putin and others in his government to face charges at a war crimes tribunal. Some political experts warn that Biden risks inflaming the war by calling Putin a war criminal, because the Kremlin leader will see even less reason to negotiate an end to the conflict.
“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “Well, the truth of the matter — we saw it happen in Bucha — this warrants it. He is a war criminal.”
Zelenskyy went further and called it “genocide.” Biden declined to call it genocide when asked.
“These are war crimes and will be recognized by the world as genocide,” Zelenskyy said. “We know of thousands of people killed and tortured, with severed limbs, raped women and murdered children.”
Since Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24, both sides have accused the other of committing genocide. Putin accused Ukraine of genocide against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, where a war has been waged since 2014 between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces. There is evidence of war crimes in eastern Ukraine, but most experts say the violence there did not amount to genocide.
In a visit to Bucha, Zelenskyy said negotiating a ceasefire and peace deal with Russia has been made only more difficult due to the alleged Russian massacres.
Photographs and videos showed at least two streets in Bucha strewn with the bodies of what appeared to be mostly dead men. Other photographs showed dead people with their hands tied behind their backs shot inside a basement, while several bodies were photographed lying in an open space outside buildings. Atrocities allegedly took place in other towns around Kyiv, including Irpin and Gostomel.
Other alleged victims of Russian atrocities were buried in sand pit in a forest. There were accusations of torture too.
Russian troops started to withdraw from around the immediate vicinity of Kyiv last week following a round of peace talks in Istanbul. The withdrawal was further sign of Russian defeats in an invasion that many Western analysts believe has become a massive failure for Putin. Russia's general staff said the withdrawal concluded the first phase of the invasion and that forces would be redeployed toward the battle for eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin denied the allegations of war crimes around Kyiv and accused Ukrainian forces of staging the atrocities as a provocation to stir up more animosity toward Russia. Russian sources pointed to videos taken while Bucha was being captured, in which the Bucha mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, does not mention dead civilians in the streets. They say that some of the victims allegedly wore white bands on their arms, an indication they might have been pro-Russians or civilians seeking to show Russian troops that they were not dangerous.
Russian forces often wear white armbands to distinguish themselves, while Ukrainian soldiers wear blue and yellow bands. Russian sources accused Ukrainian agents of shooting pro-Russian Ukrainians before blaming Russia for their deaths.