Possible mass graves near Mariupol shown in satellite images, Putin claims victory

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — New satellite images show apparent mass graves near Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of burying up to 9,000 Ukrainian civilians to hide the slaughter taking place in the devastated port city, which is almost entirely under Russian control .

The images emerged just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol on Thursday, despite the presence of an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters still holed up in a giant steel mill. Instead of storming the fortress, Putin ordered his troops to cordon off the fortress “so that not even a fly can get through.”

Putin’s decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely reflects a desire to stem Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be stationed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment on Friday.

Satellite image provider Maxar Technologies released the photos, which they said showed more than 200 mass graves in a city where Ukrainian officials say the Russians buried Mariupol residents killed in the fighting. The images showed long lines of graves stretching away from an existing cemetery in the town of Manhush outside Mariupol.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko accused the Russians of “concealing their military crimes” by taking the bodies of civilians out of the city and burying them in Manhush.

The graves could contain as many as 9,000 dead, Mariupol City Council said in a post on news app Telegram on Thursday.

Boychenko referred to Russian actions in the city as “the new Babi Yar,” a reference to the site of several Nazi massacres that killed nearly 34,000 Ukrainian Jews in 1941.

“The bodies of the dead were brought in truckloads and basically just thrown into mounds,” Boychenko’s aide Piotr Andryushchenko told Telegram.

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin. When mass graves and hundreds of dead civilians were discovered in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv after Russian troops withdrew three weeks ago, Russian officials denied their soldiers killed civilians there and accused Ukraine of orchestrating the atrocities to have.

In a statement, Maxar said a review of previous images indicates the graves at Manhush were dug in late March and expanded in recent weeks.

After nearly two deadly months of bombardment, most of which reduced Mariupol to a smoking ruin, Russian forces appear to control the rest of the strategically important southern city, including its vital but now badly damaged port.

But a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers have stubbornly held out at the steel mill for weeks, Moscow estimates, despite beatings from Russian forces and repeated calls for their surrender. About 1,000 civilians were also trapped there, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of launching attacks to block the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.

At least two Russian attacks on Thursday hit the city of Zaporizhia, a staging post for people fleeing Mariupol. No one was injured, the regional governor said.

Among those who arrived in Zaporizhia after fleeing the city were Yuriy and Polina Lulac, who lived in a basement with at least a dozen other people for almost two months. There was no running water and little food, said Yuriy Lulac.

“What happened there was so horrific that it cannot be described,” said the Russian native, who used a derogatory term to describe Russian troops as “killing people for nothing.”

“Mariupol is gone. There are only graves and crosses in the yards,” said Lulac.

The Red Cross said it expected to evacuate 1,500 people by bus, but the Russians only let a few dozen go and dragged some people off the buses.

Dmitriy Antipenko said he lived mostly in a basement with his wife and father-in-law amid death and destruction.

“There was a small cemetery in the yard, and we buried seven people there,” Antipenko said, wiping away tears.

Instead of sending troops to finish off Mariupol’s defenders at the steel factory in a potentially bloody frontal attack, Russia apparently intends to hold the siege and wait for the fighters to surrender if they run out of food or ammunition.

In all, more than 100,000 people are said to be trapped in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of about 430,000, with little or no food, water, warmth or medicine. According to Ukrainian authorities, over 20,000 people were killed in the siege.

The city has garnered global attention as the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering, including deadly air raids on a maternity hospital and theater.

Boychenko rejected any notion that Mariupol had fallen into Russian hands.

“The city was, is and will always be Ukrainian,” he explained. “Today our brave warriors, our heroes, defend our city.”

The capture of Mariupol would be the Kremlin’s biggest victory in the Ukraine war to date. It would help Moscow secure more of the coastline, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula that Russia occupied in 2014, and free up more forces to join the larger and potentially more consequential battle now raging over the eastern industrial heartland of Ukraine, Ukraine, takes place Donbass.

Speaking jointly with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said: “The completion of hostilities to liberate Mariupol is a success,” and he congratulated Shoigu.

Shoigu predicted that the Azovstal Steelworks could be taken in three to four days. But Putin said it was “pointless” and expressed concern for the lives of Russian troops when he chose not to send them in to clear the sprawling facility where the die-hard defenders were hiding in a maze of underground passages.

Instead, according to the Russian head of state, the military “should cordon off this industrial area so that not even a fly can get through.”

The facility covers 11 square kilometers (4 sq mi) and is riddled with around 24 kilometers (15 mi) of tunnels and bunkers.

“The Russian agenda now is not to capture those really difficult places for Ukrainians to hold their own in the urban centers, but to try to capture territories and also encircle the Ukrainian forces and announce a great victory,” he said retired British Rear Admiral Chris Parri said.

Russian officials have been saying for weeks that conquering the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass is the main goal of the war. Moscow forces this week opened the new phase of fighting along a 480-kilometer front from the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the Sea of ​​Azov.

While Russia continued heavy air and artillery strikes in those areas, it appeared to have gained no significant ground in recent days, according to military analysts, who said Moscow’s forces were still stepping up the offensive.

Despite Russia’s renewed focus, Britain estimates its troops are still suffering from losses sustained earlier in the conflict. To try to rebuild their exhausted forces, the Russians have resorted to sending non-functional equipment to Russia for repairs, sources said.

A senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said the Ukrainians are hampering Russian efforts to advance south from Izyum.

In the US, President Joe Biden pledged an additional $1.3 billion in new weapons and economic aid to help Ukraine, and he promised to ask much more from Congress to keep guns, ammunition and money going.


Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Danica Kirka in London; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staffers around the world.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Possible mass graves near Mariupol shown in satellite images, Putin claims victory

Dais Johnston

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