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Russia invades Ukraine, country braces for major Donbas offensive

Olga Yavon speaks with CNN about her boys Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, among six of the village’s young men who authorities say were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27. (CNN)

Indiscriminate killings of civilians attempting to flee the violence. Victims found with their hands tied behind their backs. An attack on a maternity hospital, a theater turned shelter bombed. The list of atrocities and apparent war crimes allegedly committed by Russian troops in Ukraine gets longer by the day.

As Ukrainians reclaim areas previously occupied by invading Russian troops, evidence of the horrors of recent weeks is emerging from the rubble of shattered villages and towns. New victims are discovered on a daily basis. And those lucky enough to have survived the ordeal tell harrowing tales of kidnappings, rapes and torture.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said Monday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, with “more and more” proceedings opening every day.

Russia has denied allegations of war crimes and claims its forces do not target civilians. But CNN journalists on the ground in Ukraine have seen firsthand evidence of atrocities at multiple locations across the country.

Here’s CNN’s Clarissa Ward’s report from the ground:

Novyi and Staryi Bykiv are two tiny specks on the map, separated by a small stream. Together they form a sleepy community of about 2,000 people that you’d expect few Ukrainians — let alone the Russian army — to be familiar with.

Katerina Andrusha told me that’s why her daughter Victoria decided to leave her apartment in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary and come back here at the start of the war; she believed it would be safer at home.

But on Feb. 27, residents say Russian forces rolled into the neighboring villages, turned the local school into their base, vandalized and looted homes and terrorized the people here for five weeks.

On March 25, Katerina said Russian soldiers came to her home and took Victoria, claiming she had information about their forces on her phone.

Three days later, Katerina herself was taken captive. She said she was held in a cellar for three days. Blindfolded and terrified, she tried to find out what had happened to her daughter.

“They told me she was in a warm house and that she was working with them and would be home soon,” said Katerina.

She said she hasn’t seen Victoria since. As she spoke to us, Katerina’s gaze drifted skyward in disbelief. She showed us pictures of her daughter, a beautiful schoolteacher.

“We hope that she will get in touch with someone, somewhere,” she said.

Just a few streets away, we met another mother. Olga Yavon’s grief was raw and all-consuming. She knew why we were there and the moment she came out to greet us, she broke down in tears.

Her boys, Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, are among six of the village’s young men who authorities say were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27.

She told us Russian forces rounded them up after a bridge nearby was blown up.

The Russians kept hold of their bodies for nine days before dumping them on the outskirts of the village, with instructions to bury them quickly, she said.

“They were very good boys,” Olga said. “How I want to see them again.”

Read more firsthand accounts of atrocities in Ukraine here.

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