US says discovery of mass grave in Ukraine horrific reminder of Russian legacy

Top diplomat says that as Ukraine makes gains against Russia it remains 'hugely' important to document crimes.

US says discovery of mass grave in Ukraine horrific reminder of Russian legacy

The discovery of a new mass grave in eastern Ukraine is another jarring reminder of the Kremlin's legacy in the war-torn nation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken charged on Friday.

"This is part, horrifically, of the continuing and ongoing story. Whenever we see the Russian tide recede from the parts of Ukraine that it's occupied, we see what's left in its wake," Blinken told reporters at the State Department during a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart.

"It's hugely important that even as the Ukrainians do everything they can to take back the land that's been seized from them by Russia and its aggression, that at the same time we're all working to build the evidence and document the atrocities that have been committed," he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Thursday that a mass grave had been discovered in the city of Izium, which Kyiv's forces recently recaptured from Russia.

Speaking on Friday in a Telegram video message, Zelenskyy said bodies unearthed from the more than 400 graves in a forest outside Izium bore signs of torture and other atrocities, and included the remains of children.

"Even the bodies of entire families are buried there, mother, father and daughter," he said. At least one body was unearthed with a rope still tied around its neck, while others had been found with their hands tied behind their back.

"Today there is only one thing missing, the designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism," he said, again appealing to world leaders, including those in the US, to designate Russia as such. "This must be recognized legally. We must act. If there is no such recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, it will be a betrayal."

Asked about the Ukrainian leader's appeal, Blinken continued to voice opposition to the demand, reiterating the Biden administration's position that it would have far-reaching unintended consequences.

"On virtually all of the penalties, sanctions and pressure that can be exerted through that designation we're already doing so," he said. "There are problems in the using this particular vehicle, state sponsorship of terrorism designation, that may have unintended consequences that are not only not helpful, they may even be harmful."

Those include potentially making it more difficult for humanitarian aid to reach Ukraine, jeopardizing already-tenuous global food security, including a recently-brokered deal to secure food exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports, and Zelenskyy's ability to negotiate a potential end to the conflict, the White House said.

"We think that there are better alternatives to holding Russia accountable and to increase the costs and consequences on their behavior in Ukraine," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.