Russia launches assault on Mariupol as Ukraine unveils evidence of war crimes outside Kyiv

Russian forces on Tuesday are besieging the Azovstal steel plant, the final holdout of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians in Mariupol. This as Ukraine’s top prosecutor unveiled the preliminary results of her investigation into war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tonight, Russian forces are besieging the Azovstal steel plant, that is the final holdout of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians in the city of Mariupol. And earlier today, Ukraine's top prosecutor unveiled the preliminary results of her investigation into war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, next to Bucha, where Nick Schifrin is tonight.


  • Nick Schifrin:

    Outside Kyiv, there was so much death, only now are they planning for its permanence.

    Thirty-five-year-old Volodymyr Stefiyenko measures out a future fence and headstone to replace his brother Demetrio's (ph) temporary grave. Their mother says goodbye to her son, shot in the head by Russian forces and dumped in a mass grave 6 weeks ago.

  • Volodymyr Stefiyenko, Bucha Resident (through translator):

    I don't want his grave to be disturbed. All of these graves have fences. It's a tradition. And there will also be a table and bench so we can commemorate the dead. Sit down, talk to them, maybe plant some flowers. Say our goodbyes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The oldest victim of Russian occupation on this row, 93. The youngest, 23. The family who buried their son, so quickly, the name is written in pen. Just one row of victims, in one city, in a country that's fighting a war with no end in sight.

  • Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General, Ukraine:

    They have done here murders. They have done their tortures.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Down the road, Ukraine's top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, today concluded her and her team's initial war crimes investigation in neighboring Irpin. They displayed weapons and accused Russia of using them to target civilians, indiscriminately. They said Russian forces executed seven civilians, fired on civilians as they fled, and starved other civilians to death.

  • Iryna Venediktova:

    It means someone killed them, and we fill find these people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We spoke about one month ago. How much progress have you made?

  • Iryna Venediktova:

    We have first suspects, and we start to prosecute concrete individuals from Russian army. Maybe one month ago, we have 5,000 cases, I don't remember exactly. Now, more than 9,000 cases. And unfortunately, it is not the end.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last week, she accused 10 soldiers in Russia's 64th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of committing atrocities in Bucha. Just the week before, it received awards for heroism and courage, from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Iryna Venediktova:

    It means that, yes, it is command responsibility. And Vladimir Putin is responsible for these atrocities.

    But across the street, neither atrocities nor broken windows prevent some families from returning.

    Mikola Tyshkevych arrived here last night for the first time in two months. He first fled downstairs to the basement, and then to his family down south. The calendar, still stuck on the last month they lived here. He and his wife Svetlana are determined to stay, despite the cold coming through the broken window.

  • Svetlana Tyshkevych, Irpin Resident (through translator):

    Well, we get on the bed, we cover ourselves, and that's how we live. Where else should we go? We have nowhere to go.

    It's better to be here than on the street. Even though it's cold both here and outside, it is like we're on the street.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Just outside these windows here in Irpin, and down the road in Bucha, what do you think the Russians did?

  • Svetlana Tyshkevych:

    It's scary. And I don't understand why. What did we do? We had a normal life before the war. Now, nobody knows what's going to happen tomorrow, or even tonight. You see, everything is shattered.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Perhaps Russia's single worst war crime here behind St. Andrew's Church, a mass grave of more than 100 people.

    Today, inside that church, a requiem for the dead. Surrounded by the images of atrocities, and of the memories this community can never forget.

    The Russian strikes that produced shrapnel big enough to pierce this fence, many of them, fell next to children's playgrounds. In total, 75 percent of all residential buildings here in Irpin were either damaged or destroyed.

    But here's the thing, Irpin held. Ukrainian forces here prevented Russians from going down the road, only about 15 miles to central Kyiv. And that was in large part thanks to American weapons.

  • President Joe Biden:

    So, you're going to direct this sucker, huh?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And today, President Biden highlighted those weapons 5,500 miles away, in a Javelin missile factory in Troy, Alabama. Like the Trojans of antiquity, the Ukrainians have used stealth and deception and thousands of Javelins to destroy their enemies and armor.

    But it hasn't been enough to save the port city of Mariupol. Inside the besieged Azovstal plant today, two women killed who thought they were about to escape. More than 100 civilians were allowed to leave, and today finally reached Ukrainian-held territory, including 54-year old Yelena Tsybulchenko.

  • Yelena Tsybulchenko, Azovstal Evacuee (through translator):

    Every night, we went to sleep and thought about whether we would survive and wake up it was possible that we wouldn't wake up at all.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Red Cross's Pascal Hundt helped oversee the evacuation.

  • Pascal Hundt, International Committe Of The Red Cross:

    We would have hoped that much more people would be able to join the convoy and to get out of hell.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hell for Mariupol's residents and so many of this war's victims seems eternal.

    For the "PBS NewsHour", I'm Nick Schifrin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a note, our coverage of the war in Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

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