Putin claims he wants to end war in Ukraine ‘as soon as possible’

Work taking place to exhume and identify about 445 bodies in a mass grave in Izyum

Russian president Vladimir Putin has claimed he wants to end the war in Ukraine “as soon as possible”, as Kyiv’s authorities investigated alleged atrocities by Moscow’s troops and several pro-Kremlin officials were assassinated in occupied territory.

Ukraine consolidated control over swathes of newly liberated territory in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Friday, as heavy fighting continued further south in the Donbas area and Kherson near the Black Sea, and Russian missiles hit sites in several Ukrainian cities, including a dam in Kryvyi Rih that has been struck repeatedly this week.

“I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns that you constantly express,” Mr Putin told Indian president Narendra Modi during talks in Uzbekistan.

“We will do everything to stop this as soon as possible. But unfortunately the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, has announced its rejection of the negotiation process and stated that it wants to achieve its aims by military means, on the battlefield, as they say.”


Mr Modi said this was “not a time for war” but for “democracy and diplomacy and dialogue”, though he has not publicly criticised Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions in a little over six months.

Mr Putin is courting major non-western powers to offset the heavy sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States, European Union and their closest allies.

He told Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday that Russia understood Beijing’s “questions and concerns” on the war and highly valued its “balanced position” on the issue.

The Kremlin’s diplomatic effort comes after its forces retreated from much of Kharkiv region in disarray this month, abandoning scores of tanks and other armoured vehicles and big ammunition stocks in the face of a swift Ukrainian counterattack.

National police chief Ihor Klymenko said the bodies of about 50 civilians had been found this week in recently liberated parts of Kharkiv region, and that work was now taking place to exhume and identify about 445 bodies buried in a mass grave in the city of Izyum, which was a Russian stronghold for several months.

It is not clear whether civilians or soldiers, or both, were buried in the mass grave, and Mr Klymenko said it was “not the work of only [a] week to establish the nature of physical injuries and causes of death.”

He also revealed that 10 “torture chambers” had been found in Izyum and other towns controlled until this month by Russian troops, saying: “We know for sure that people were tortured there, and we already have information about those who died there.”

“We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to ... Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for that,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Moscow denies committing war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine, where it claims that its “special military operation” is aimed at “denazifying” the pro-western democracy, protecting its Russian-speakers and stopping it from ever joining Nato.

The Kremlin’s troops are now under heavy pressure in much of eastern and southern Ukraine, and its appointed officials and collaborators in occupied territory are coming under frequent attack, apparently from Kyiv’s covert operatives or partisan groups.

In occupied Luhansk, the chief prosecutor and his deputy were killed by an explosion in his office, and in Russian-controlled Berdyansk a pro-Moscow official and his wife — who was working on plans for a referendum on joining Russia — were killed in the garage of their home.

Moscow also said that three people were killed on Friday when Ukrainian rockets hit the main administration building in the occupied city of Kherson.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe