Kharkiv official: Ukrainian authorities recover over 400 bodies in Izium, dozens with signs of torture
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Jennifer Hauser
Ukrainian officials completed the exhumation of 436 bodies from a mass burial site in Izium on Friday, according to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.
Most of the bodies have signs of violent death, and 30 have traces of torture, Syniehubov said in a Telegram post.
"There are bodies with a rope around the neck, with hands tied, with broken limbs and with gunshot wounds. Several men had their genitals amputated. All this is evidence of the terrible torture to which the occupiers subjected the residents of Izium. Most of the bodies are civilians, 21 are military," he said.
Syniehubov vowed to find out the circumstances of each of their deaths "so that their relatives and friends know the truth and the killers are punished."
He thanked 200 individuals — forensic experts, police officers and employees of the State Emergency Service, who he said had been working there every day for their "morally difficult but necessary work."
Syniehubov also said there are at least three more mass burial sites in other liberated areas of the Kharkiv region.
"All crimes of the occupiers will be documented, and the perpetrators will pay for what they have done," Syniehubov said.
11:59 p.m. ET, September 23, 2022
Biden says US will never recognize Russia’s referendums in Ukraine
From CNN's Sam Fossum
President Joe Biden said the United States will never recognize Russia's referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine.
"The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. Russia’s referenda are a sham — a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter," Biden said in a statement.
The President said the US will continue to work with allies to "impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia.
"The United States stands with our partners around the world — and with every nation that respects the core tenets of the UN charter — in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia will announce," the statement said.
Some background: Four Russian-occupied areas began voting Friday in referendums on joining Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes of Moscow's invasion.
The referendums, which are illegal under international law and dismissed as a sham by Western governments and Kyiv, could pave the way for Russian annexation of the areas, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself.
11:55 p.m. ET, September 23, 2022
UN experts say evidence shows war crimes, including torture of children, committed in Ukraine
From CNN’s Mick Krever
A United Nations panel of experts says their investigation has found evidence that war crimes have been committed during Russia's war in Ukraine, including cases of rape and torture of children.
“In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years,” Erik Møse, chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. "The Commission has documented cases in which children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined. Children have also been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons."
The panel said that it had identified two incidents of ill-treatment of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian captivity.
The three human rights experts on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine traveled to Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, visiting 27 towns and interviewing more than 150 people.
Speaking at the UN Security Council on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the “increased activity of international justice," calling it "undoubtedly a put-up job."
The Commission said “some Russian Federation soldiers” have been responsible for sexual and gender-based violence.
“These acts amounted to different types of violations of rights, including sexual violence, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment. There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes," it added.
Møse also noted that a number of attacks investigated by the panel "had been carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants, including cluster munition attacks and airstrikes on populated areas."
Commission members “were struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited,” Møse added.
“Common elements of such crimes include the prior detention of the victims as well as visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats,” he reported. “Some of the victims reported that after initial detention by Russian forces in Ukraine, they were transferred to the Russian Federation and held for weeks in prisons. Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in such detention facilities.”
12:21 a.m. ET, September 24, 2022
Western countries slam the Russian-backed "sham" referendums in Ukraine
From CNN’s Mick Krever in London and Nadine Schmidt in Berlin
Four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine began voting in referendums on joining Russia Friday, according to their separatist leaders. The referendums are illegal under international law and dismissed as "a sham" by Western governments and Kyiv.
Here's what governments around the world are saying:
The outcome of “sham” secession referendums in four Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions is “almost certainly already decided,” the UK ambassador to Ukraine said on Friday.
“There will be results publicised of something that didn’t happen. I wonder whether anyone will even be called to vote. They won’t need to. The outcome is almost certainly already decided,” Melinda Simmons said on Twitter.
''Switzerland condemns sham referendums in parts of Ukraine'' the Swiss Federal Council said in a statement on Friday, adding that ''the referendums currently taking place in Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Russia do not conform with the law and are illegal under international law.''
Condemning the violation, the Federal Council also said it "will not recognize the results of any of these sham referendums."
The President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis clearly stated this position to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York on Wednesday when representatives from countries around the world met for the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, the statement added.
NATO (A US-led alliance)
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the plan to hold so-called 'referenda' on joining the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian regions partly controlled by the Russian military,” the North Atlantic Council, NATO's principle decision-making body said in a statement.
"Allies do not and will never recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. Sham referenda in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine have no legitimacy and will be a blatant violation of the UN Charter. NATO Allies will not recognize their illegal and illegitimate annexation,” the council added.