Mass grave near Mariupol could contain up to nine thousand victims of the Russian invaders
Satellite images, released by Maxar Technologies on 21 April, have identified what appears to be a mass grave, containing about 200 graves. The site began expanding between 19 and 23 March, and had become significantly larger by 30 March. The area of new graves, which is near the existing cemetery at Manhush, a town less than 20 kilometres from Mariupol, is reportedly at least 300 metres in length.
The Mariupol City Council has estimated that the fresh graves could contain the bodies of between three and nine thousand Mariupol residents. This is based on a comparison with the area of an exhumed mass grave in Bucha, containing the bodies of 70 victims of the Russian invaders. The area visible on the satellite image from 9 April is 20 times larger. The Council first reported in early April that the Russians were organizing ‘collection points’ for bodies and taking these away, either to bury in mass graves or to be created in a number of mobile crematoria. This was shortly after the international outrage over the discovery or the bodies, some hurled into mass graves, of residents of Bucha and other Kyiv oblast cities whom the Russians murdered, in many cases after torturing and / or raping them. Russia has blocked any major evacuation from Mariupol or International Committee of the Red Cross humanitarian convoys entering the city, with Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko having long said that this is aimed at hiding their crimes.
On 21 April, Boichenko accused the Russians of committing “the worst war crime of the 21st century. This is a new Babyn Yar. Then Hitler killed Jews, Roma and Slavs. Now Putin is destroying Ukrainians. He has already killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol. That requires a powerful reaction from the entire civilized world. The genocide must be stopped.”
Petro Andriushchenko, Advisor to the Mayor, also posted satellite images on 21 April, stating that the Russians had dug several mass graves around the bypass road, with each of these up to 30 metres. He added that trucks had brought the bodies and effectively just dumped them there all together.
All of the bodies are in plastic bags, confirming the earlier reports from the Mariupol City Council that the bodies were being collected in another place in the city.
On 9 April, the Council posted the photo of an underpass in Sadkiv, a district on the outskirts of Mariupol where they believed there was a collection point for the bodies of the Ukrainians whom the Russian military killed. The report asserted that special ‘purge’ units take bodies each day to this or other such collection points around the city, with the largest of these is in a warehouse at the entrance to the town of Stary Krym.
The Russians then take the bodies away, the Council said, to either be burned in mobile crematoria, or to be buried in mass graves. The invaders are thus “doing everything to conceal the tragedy in Mariupol, since the scale of the crime is very many times more terrible than the genocide in Bucha.”
If the Council is right that Russia is also using mobile crematoria, it is likely that it is using the latter to hide the evidence of torture, rape or arbitrary killings. There must, however, also be huge numbers of victims of the bombing of residential buildings and other clear civilian targets, including the Drama Theatre, bombed on 16 March despite having the word ‘CHILDREN’ written in huge letters both in front of the building, and behind. Russia is now expending considerable effort on propaganda measures, including videos produced by the FSB (security service) to blame Ukraine for these and other war crimes.
The Council reports that by the middle of March, the municipal services in Mariupol had buried the bodies of approximately five thousand civilians. “According to cautious estimates, 22 thousand people have been killed by the Russian army.” These are, unfortunately, very cautious given that Russia has destroyed up to 90% of the infrastructure in Mariupol, leaving civilians without heating, electricity, running water or basic medical supplies, and with food very likely running out. In describing the horrific conditions in which Vanda Obiedkova, 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, died in Russian-besieged Mariupol, her daughter Larissa explained that her mother had been pleading for water. This was in desperately short supply and each trip by Larissa or her husband to the nearest source of water could cost them their lives as Russian snipers were positioned near the source.
It was also impossible to safely bury the dead and the authorities were themselves forced to use mass graves, while people also buried their loved ones where they could, in courtyards, or public parks. On 15 April, the Council stated also that the Russians had begun exhuming the bodies of those buried in such informal graves. According to accounts from Mariupol residents, the Russian soldiers were also preventing them from burying the bodies of those whom the Russians killed, with guards stationed in each courtyard to implement this. Russia is continuing, against all evidence, to deny that it is targeting and killing civilians, and certainly appears to be using its siege of Mariupol to destroy proof of its crimes.