Monday, September 26, 2022

Satellite photos show possible mass grave near Mariupol

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Satellite images released on Thursday showed what appeared to be mass graves near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying 9,000 Ukrainian civilians in an attempt to hide the slaughter taking place in the siege of the port city.

The images emerged hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the Battle for Mariupol, despite the presence of an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters who were still hiding in a giant steel mill. Putin ordered his troops not to attack the citadel, but closed it “so that not a single fly would come.”

Satellite image provider Maxar Technologies released photos it said showed more than 200 mass graves in a city where Ukrainian officials say Russians are burying Mariupol residents killed in fighting. Imagery shows long queues of graves tucked away from an existing cemetery in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol.

Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko accused the Russians of “concealing their military crimes” by transporting bodies of civilians from the city to burying them in a manhunt.

Mariupol City Council said in a post on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday that as many as 9,000 people may have died in the graves.

Boychenko labeled the Russian actions in the city as “New Babi Yar”, a reference to the site of several Nazi massacres in which some 34,000 Ukrainian Jews were killed in 1941.

Pyotr Andryshchenko, an associate of Boychenko, said on Telegram, “The bodies of the dead were being brought in trucks and were really just being dumped in the mound.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin. When mass graves and hundreds of dead civilians were discovered in Bucha and other cities around Kyiv after Russian troops had retreated three weeks earlier, Russian officials denied that their soldiers killed any civilians there and Ukraine. accused of torture.

In a statement, Maxar said a review of previous images indicated that the tombs at Manhash were excavated in late March and expanded in recent weeks.

After nearly two deadly months of bombing, which largely smoked Mariupol, Russian forces begin to control the rest of the strategic southern city, including its vital but now badly damaged port.

But according to Moscow estimates, a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers have persisted for weeks at the steel plant, despite pushback by the Russian military and repeated demands for their surrender. According to Ukrainian officials, about 1,000 civilians are also trapped there.

Rather than sending troops to eliminate the defenders in a potentially bloody frontal attack, Russia clearly intended to maintain the siege and wait for the fighters to surrender when they ran out of food or ammunition.

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

“The city was, is and remains Ukrainian,” he declared. “Today our heroic warriors, our heroes, are defending our city.”

The capture of Mariupol would represent the Kremlin’s biggest victory in the war in Ukraine so far. It would help Moscow further secure the coastline, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, and the now-on-going major roadblock to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland. would potentially free up more forces to engage in more consequential fighting. Donbass.

Putin expressed concern for the lives of Russian soldiers in deciding against sending them to evacuate the huge Azovstal steel plant, where the dead guards were hiding in a maze of underground passages.

In a joint appearance with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin declared, “Completing the war effort to liberate Mariupol is a success,” and he congratulated Shoigu.

Shoigu had predicted the steel plant could be taken down in three to four days, but Putin said it would be “futile”.

“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” said the Russian leader. “Shut down this industrial area so that not even a single fly comes.”

The plant is spread over 11 square kilometers and is threaded with about 24 kilometers of tunnels and bunkers.

“The Russian agenda is no longer to capture these really difficult places where Ukrainians can hold in urban centers, but to try and capture the area and encircle the Ukrainian army and declare a major victory,” Retired British Rear Adm. Chris Parry said.

Russian officials have said for weeks that the main objective of the war is to capture the mostly Russian-speaking Donbass. Moscow’s army this week began a new phase of fighting on a 480-km front from the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the Azov Sea.

While Russia continued to launch heavy air and artillery attacks in those areas, it did not gain any significant ground in the past few days, according to military analysts, who said Moscow’s forces were still moving on the offensive.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said Ukrainians were obstructing Russian efforts to push south from Izium.

Rockets attacked a neighborhood in Kharkiv on Thursday, killing at least two civilians in their car. A school and a residential building were also damaged and firefighters tried to douse the blaze and search for those trapped.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said Russian troops kidnapped a local official leading a humanitarian convoy in the southern Kherson region. She said that the Russians offered to free her in exchange for Russian prisoners of war, but she called it unacceptable.

Vereshchuk also said that efforts to establish three humanitarian corridors in the Kherson region failed on Thursday because Russian troops did not catch their fire.

Meanwhile, Western nations rushed to lay down heavy weapons in Ukraine to help counter the offensive in the east.

US President Joe Biden announced an additional US$800 million in military aid, including 144,000 rounds of heavy artillery, ammunition and drones. But he also warned that the $13.6 billion approved by Congress last month for military and humanitarian aid is “nearly exhausted” and more will be needed.

All told, more than 100,000 people are believed to have been stranded with little or no food, water, heat or medicine in Mariupol, which had a population of about 430,000. According to Ukrainian officials, more than 20,000 people have been killed in the siege.

The city has attracted worldwide attention as the scene of some of the worst pains of the war, including deadly airstrikes on a maternity hospital and a theatre.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of launching attacks to prevent the evacuation of civilians from the city. On Thursday, at least two Russian attacks struck the city of Zaporizhzhya, a route for those fleeing Mariupol. No one was injured, the regional governor said.

Yuri and Polina Lulak were among those who arrived in Zaporizhzhya after escaping from Mariupol, who spent nearly two months living in a cellar with at least a dozen others. Yuri Lulak said that there was no running water and little food.

“What was happening there was so terrible that you can’t describe it,” said the native Russian speaker, who used a derogatory term for Russian soldiers, adding that they were “killing people for nothing.” “

“Mariupol is gone. In the courtyards there are only graves and crosses, ”said Lulak.

The Red Cross said it hoped to evacuate 1,500 people from the bus, but the Russians only allowed a few dozen people to go and pulled some people off the buses.

Dmitry Antipenko said that he lived mostly in a cellar with his wife and father-in-law, amid death and destruction.

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

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Associated Press journalists Mstislav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine; Danica Kirka in London; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other Associated Press staff members around the world.

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