BUCHA, Ukraine -- Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the world Tuesday to honor civilians who were killed when Russian ground forces tried to invade Ukraine's capital and eventually retreated from the area surrounding Kyiv.
Ban, a former South Korean diplomat who served as secretary-general between 2007 and 2016, visited Bucha, a city northwest of the Ukrainian capital where hundreds of civilians were found dead after the Russian withdrawal in late March.
“It’s hard to express my feelings. It’s a horrendous atrocity. It’s a crime against humanity and (those responsible) should be held accountable,” Ban told The Associated Press after visiting the Church of St. Andrew the Apostle.
Authorities said 116 bodies were found in a mass grave near the church after Russian soldiers pulled out.
“All the people killed here without any reason should be fully honored and remembered in the history of humankind," Ban said.
He traveled to Ukraine as part of an international peace initiative known as The Elders, which former South African President Nelson Mandela founded in 2007.
Ban was joined by former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate like the late Mandela. Santos also described the massacre of Ukrainian civilians as a crime against humanity.
“The whole world should be very much aware of what is happening and be in a position to support the Ukrainian people in their effort to gain their peace and freedom,” Santos told the AP.
The two former leaders visited the site of the mass grave behind the church and visited a display of photographs inside the building with scenes from the aftermath of the intense fighting in Bucha in late February and March.
The civilian killings at Bucha have become a symbol of brutality of the war. They were carried out as Russia launched a failed effort to capture the Ukrainian capital after it invaded the country on Feb. 24.
Municipal authorities say 458 bodies have been found in the Bucha area since the city's 33-day Russian occupation ended. The victims include 12 children, who in most cases were killed with their parents.
Vasilisa Stepanenko contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine