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Russia detains two soldiers suspected of killing 9 civilians

By Constant Méheut New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Two Russian soldiers have been detained in connection with the killing of nine people, including two children, in Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow, Russian authorities said, in a rare admission that occupying forces may have committed a crime against Ukrainian civilians.

The killings, which were also reported by Ukrainian officials, took place last week in Volnovakha, a small city in southeastern Ukraine that was seized by Russian forces shortly after the start of their full-scale invasion last year. Russian federal investigators said in a statement late Monday that nine bodies with gunshot wounds had been found in a house.

Russian authorities did not provide details of the killings, saying only that they involved a “conflict on domestic grounds.” Nor did they shed light on a potential motive. Ukrainian officials said they believed Russian soldiers had murdered an entire Ukrainian family for refusing to hand over their house.

Ukrainian officials, prosecutors and human rights groups say that Russian occupation forces have regularly committed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians over the course of Russia’s 20-month invasion. They include executions of people in the street, torture of local residents and rape of women.

But these crimes have usually come to light only after the liberation of the occupied territories by Ukrainian forces, and Moscow has long denied any responsibility for them, typically saying its soldiers do not brutalize civilians. The fact that Russian authorities have now publicly announced the opening of an investigation into a killing in occupied territory raises questions about their motivation for doing so, said Tetyana Katrychenko, the head of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, a group investigating Russian crimes in Ukraine.

She said Russian authorities “had to announce the investigation about this case” because pictures of the bodies quickly started circulating on social networks, putting occupying forces under public pressure.

But Katrychenko and other experts questioned whether Russian investigators would actually try to solve the case, and they warned that the investigation may only be intended to give the impression that Russia is concerned about crimes against civilians.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.