Ukrainian officials say 447 bodies have been exhumed from a forest in the recently recaptured northeastern city of Izium, ending a grim recovery operation at a mass grave site discovered after Russian forces withdrew in the face of a counteroffensive.

Authorities and teams of investigators have been working in the sandy soil of the pine forest for a week. It was not clear how those who were buried died, but investigators say the discoveries recalled the broad evidence of atrocities by Russian soldiers in towns such as Bucha, near Kyiv, the capital.

The head of the National Police, Ihor Klymenko, said Friday that the exhumation works were complete and that 425 of the bodies recovered were civilians — including five children — while 22 were Ukrainian service members.

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“There are many bodies with traces of torture,” he wrote in a Facebook post, hinting at the challenging work still at hand. “Police forensic experts face a difficult task: to identify the body of each killed person. Relatives should bury them in a human way.”

Russian forces took control of Izium in late March after a three-week siege, turning it into a military stronghold and staging ground for its assault on eastern Ukraine. They fled in disarray in mid-September as Ukrainian forces routed the Russians across the northeast and reclaimed thousands of square miles of terrain.


Izium had a prewar population of about 40,000, although an estimated 10,000 residents remained during the fighting.

The discovery of the mass burial site cast a renewed spotlight on potential war crimes and prompted fresh calls to hold Russia accountable for any abuses committed during their occupation of the city.

Ukrainian police have said they are examining 18 sites in the northeastern Kharkiv region where Russian forces are suspected of torturing Ukrainians.