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The NATO military alliance said it would support Ukraine in its fight against Russia “for as long as it takes” after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stepped up calls for Western sanctions against Moscow in following the discovery of a mass burial site in a city once occupied by the Russians. forces.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the latest developments on the ongoing invasion of Russia, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, the global response and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

Chairman of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said on September 17 that Western military aid was making a crucial difference as Ukraine waged a powerful counteroffensive to retake occupied lands in the east and south of the country.

“The ammunition, equipment and training that allies and other nations provide are all making a real difference on the battlefield,” he told a meeting in Tallinn.

“With its successes on the ground and online, Ukraine has fundamentally changed modern warfare,” he added, citing military and civilian actions.

Bauer said NATO would support Ukraine “as long as it takes. Winter is coming but our support will remain unwavering.”

The reaffirmation of his support came as Zelenskiy called on the world community to condemn Russia’s ‘terrorist state’ following the discovery of a mass burial site and evidence of torture in Izyum days after the resumption of the city to Russia.

Speaking in his nightly video address on September 16, Zelenskiy said Russia should be punished with tougher sanctions.

“There is already clear evidence of torture, humiliating treatment of people. In addition, there is evidence that Russian soldiers, whose positions were not far from this place, shot at the buried just for fun “, did he declare.

Zelenskiy compared the discoveries made in Izyum this week with the Bucha massacre in the spring and reiterated his call for an international tribunal to hold Russia accountable for all the crimes it has committed in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said at least 440 bodies had been recovered from the Izyum site.

The UN Human Rights Office said it planned to send investigators to Izyum.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the reports “disgusting” but said they were “consistent with the kind of depravity and brutality with which Russian forces carried out this war”.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has called for the creation of an international war crimes tribunal after the discovery of the new mass burial sites.

“Russia left behind mass graves of hundreds of slaughtered and tortured people in the Izyum region. In the 21st century, such attacks on the civilian population are unthinkable and heinous,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. said on Twitter.

“We must not ignore it. We stand for the punishment of all war criminals,” he added.

Moscow has not commented on the mass burial site at Izyum, which was a Russian frontline stronghold before Ukraine’s counteroffensive forced its forces to flee.

Reacting to the reports, US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said war crimes in Ukraine could not be hidden.

“Compared to the full scale [of potential war crimes], I do not know. But I would tell you that the world will find out. War crimes cannot be hidden, especially things like mass graves,” Milley told reporters traveling with him after arriving in Estonia for a NATO rally.

Milley praised the Ukrainian military for seizing Russia’s “strategic initiative” – ​​suggesting Ukraine had momentum in the war.

When asked if Ukraine would be able to take back all of its territory, Milley said: “The offensives are in their early stages. We’re probably only looking at about two weeks until now. So I think we’ll have to wait and see how the fights develop.

Elsewhere, the UN’s atomic watchdog said the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant had been reconnected to Ukraine’s national grid after repairing one of its four power lines.

The plant had been completely shut down a week ago amid heavy fighting in the area, raising fears of a possible radioactive disaster. Russia took control of the plant, but it is still operated by Ukrainian personnel.

Near the city of Zaporizhzhya, which is still under Ukrainian control, the Vatican reported that the papal envoy, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, had come under small arms fire while delivering humanitarian aid on behalf of the Pope Francis. No one was injured and it is not known where the shots came from.

The cardinal must go to Kharkiv after going to Odessa.

WATCH: The speed and effectiveness of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the northeast region of Kharkiv came as a stunning surprise to the Russian military. Ukraine has gone to great lengths to keep its counter-offensive secret, including deliberately misleading Russian forces about its military maneuvers. RFE/RL spoke to some of the soldiers involved, who described their tactics.

Meanwhile, Russian news agency TASS quoted local authorities in Russia’s Belgorod region as saying Ukrainian shelling across the border killed one person in the area. The report could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces used the border region to fire missiles at Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

In a September 17 Twitter update, British military intelligence said Ukraine continued offensive operations in the northeast of the country as Russian forces established a defensive line between the Oskil River and the town of Svatove. .

“Russia probably considers maintaining control of this area important because it passes through one of the few major supply routes that Russia still controls from the Belgorod region of Russia,” the Defense Ministry said. on Twitter.

“Russia will likely attempt to mount a stubborn defense of this area, but it is unclear whether Russian frontline forces have sufficient reserves or adequate morale to withstand another concerted Ukrainian assault,” he said. he adds.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE / RL, Reuters, dpa, AP and AFP

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