Western officials expressed outrage on Sunday at videos and images emerging from Bucha, a town near Kyiv, that appeared to show civilian bodies scattered on the streets after Russia withdrew its troops from the area in recent days.
Footage posted by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and photographs from news agencies showed the bodies of men in civilian clothes lying on the streets of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv. Some images showed bodies with their hands bound behind their backs.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense called the images “staged,” saying in a statement Sunday that “not a single” civilian had been injured in Bucha.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in an interview on CNN that the images were in line with the Biden administration’s warnings that Russian forces would commit abuses.
“You can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut, and look, we’ve said before Russia’s aggression that we thought it was likely that they would commit atrocities,” Mr. Blinken said, adding: “We can’t become numb to this. We can’t normalize this. This is the reality of what’s going on every single day.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said the accounts of civilian deaths in Bucha showed “that Russian hatred towards Ukrainians is beyond anything Europe has seen since WWII.” He reiterated a call for increased sanctions against Russia and for more military assistance for his country.
“The only way to stop this: help Ukraine kick Russians out as soon as possible,” he tweeted.
He also called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court to gather evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. U.S. and British officials said that their governments would help collect evidence to assist investigators.
President Emmanuel Macron of France called the images “unbearable.”
“In the streets, hundreds of civilians were murdered in a cowardly way,” Mr. Macron said in a message posted on Twitter on Sunday, adding, “The Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes.”
The outrage could move the needle in terms of European sanctions against Russia. The European Union has so far rebuffed calls from both Ukraine and President Joe Biden to impose sanctions on Russian oil and gas, citing the bloc’s dependency on Russian fuels. But on Sunday, Germany’s defense minister voiced a significant shift in her country’s position. The defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, said on a German TV program that the bloc should consider banning Russian gas imports in light of the Bucha atrocities.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, expressed his shock over the images and said in a tweet that more European Union sanctions against Russia “are on their way.”
Several other European officials expressed their alarm at the images from Bucha.
Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, said on Twitter that the images were “cold reality of Putin’s war crimes,” adding that the world “must be aware of what is happening.”
Analysts say that while war crimes cases can be brought before the International Criminal Court at the Hague, it would be extremely difficult to hold Russian leaders to account there because the court lacks enforcement powers. Prosecution at the International Court of Justice is also possible, but any ruling would need to be enforced by the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds veto power.
American lawmakers said the reports from Bucha justified further assistance to Ukraine, with some calling for the provision of more surface-to-air missiles to help Ukrainian forces. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said that “we need to do more to help Ukraine, and we need to do more quickly.”
Constant Méheut and Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels, Emily Cochrane from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Istanbul and Cassandra Vinograd from London.