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EU sending war crimes investigators to Ukraine

INTERNATIONAL: People behind these “heinous crimes” must not go unpunished, the EU Commission head has said.

The EU will send a team of investigators to Ukraine to probe alleged war crimes on the ground, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday, after holding phone talks with the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. The move comes after multiple dead civilians were found in Bucha, a suburb of the capital, over the weekend, with Kiev promptly attributing the killings to Russian troops.

“This afternoon I spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the dreadful murders that have been uncovered in Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops have recently left,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

The investigative team dispatched by the EU will not act as an independent entity but will assist Ukrainian authorities in collecting evidence on-site, the official signalled.

“The EU has set up a Joint Investigation Team with Ukraine to collect evidence and investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity,” von der Leyen explained. “The EU is ready to reinforce this effort by sending investigation teams on the ground to support the Ukrainian Prosecution Services. Eurojust and Europol are ready to assist.”

The Bucha situation unfolded after multiple dead civilians were found in the suburban town northwest of the capital. Kyiv without delay blamed Russian troops for the purported mass killing, with top Western officials backing its assessment and also accusing Moscow of war crimes. The latter, however, has vehemently denied any involvement in the killings, branding the whole Bucha affair a deliberately staged “provocation” to frame Russian troops. Russian forces left the city on March 30. Images purportedly showing civilians killed by withdrawing Russian troops started pouring out of the city on April 2.

Zelensky visited the site of the purported mass killing earlier in the day, vowing to punish those responsible and reiterating Kyiv’s allegations against Moscow.

“We want you to show the world what happened here. What the Russian military did. What the Russian Federation did in peaceful Ukraine. It was important for you to see that these were civilians,” Zelensky told a large group of foreign reporters who accompanied him to the site.

Moscow launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbas republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia’s demand is that Ukraine officially declares itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military alliance. Kyiv insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it had been planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.

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