war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia destroys the centre of Mariupol to conceal its war crimes while leaving residents to die of the cold

Halya Coynash
New Maxar satellite images show more graves in occupied Mariupol, and confirm that the Russians are destroying buildings, while building a military compound

Mariupol Destruction of buildings in the centre Screenshot from the video posted by Petro Andriushchenko

Mariupol Destruction of buildings in the centre Screenshot from the video posted by Petro Andriushchenko

After virtually razing Mariupol to the ground, Russia is doing nothing to ensure that the Ukrainians who survived its savage bombing and shelling, can now survive the winter.  The Mariupol city authorities have been reporting for weeks that the Russians are simply demolishing the buildings they bombed in order to conceal the evidence, while failing to ensure restoration of running water, electricity, and heating.  It is clear that they have the ability to do so, as new Maxar satellite images have shown that Russia is building a large army facility in the occupied city.  The satellites also indicate that there has been a huge increase in graves.  This is hardly surprising considering the massive death toll from Russian bombs, and the likely increase in preventable deaths among a population forced to live in appalling conditions, without proper nutrition and medical care.

On 2 December, Maxar Technologies posted four sets of satellite images from 30 November.  The first showed that “dozens of high-rise apartment buildings that were destroyed or heavily damaged in March are now being demolished”.  The image provides further confirmation of reports from Petro Andriushchenko, Adviser to the Mayor of Mariupol.  On 27 November, for example, he posted video footage of the latest demolition of a building in the historical centre of Mariupol.  He called this “the latest concealment of the consequences of the bombing by Russian planes.”

The fourth Maxar satellite shows a large protective screen around the Mariupol Drama Theatre, described as the site of the Russian airstrikes on 16 March, 2022.  Those airstrikes may well have made the building a danger to passers-by, but there are other compelling reasons why Russia would want to hide this particular war crime.  The basement of the theatre was being used by as many as one thousand civilians as a bomb shelter, with the vast majority of those hiding there women, children and the elderly.  There were huge signs in Russian at the front and back of the building stating clearly that there were children inside. An Associated Press investigation found that as many as 600 civilians may have been killed in that Russian attack. 

Russia has been coercing the Mariupol residents it forcibly deported to parts of Russia or occupied Crimea to provide so-called ‘testimony’ claiming that Ukrainian defenders were behind its most egregious crimes, including the bombing of a maternity hospital on 9 March and of the Drama Theatre on 16 March.

Other, primitive, attempts to simply rewrite history and conceal the facts were seen in the invaders’ destruction of a wall mural in Mariupol, showing Milana Abdurashitova, a young girl whose mother was killed, and whose leg needed to be amputated after the Russian or Russian-controlled militant shelling of the city in January 2015.

It is no accident that Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, recently likened Russia’s destruction of Mariupol to how Russia razed the Chechen capital Grozny to the ground, two decades earlier.  The false narrative that Moscow is trying to push, through the use of ‘witnesses’ terrorised by the FSB and propaganda media cannot counter the vast amounts of video, photographic and satellite evidence, and the testimony of those who were, despite Russia’s effective blockade, finally able to flee to government-controlled Ukraine or abroad.

Judging by the reports from the city that the Mariupol city authorities receive, there is little chance of the local population believing Russian upbeat propaganda.  How could they when they are forced to spend hours each day queuing on the streets for loaves of bread, drinking water, etc. and then return to homes that are freezing? 

Although most of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of civilians who died during Russia’s attack on and siege of Mariupol were killed by bombs or shelling, others died, pleading for water and shivering, in cold basements.  One such victim was 91-year-old Vanda Obiedkova who had survived in basements after the Nazis invaded Mariupol and killed her mother, but died seeking shelter from Russian bombs, 81 years later.

Maxar Technologies first published satellite images of what appeared to be a mass grave on 21 April, with the Mariupol City Council then estimating that the mass graves could contain the bodies of up to nine thousand Mariupol residents.  Further satellite images published since then have pointed to either other mass graves or to considerable extension of those first identified.

The new images from 30 November show a significant expansion in the number of graves in the main city cemetery (Starokrymske) on the western side of Mariupol.  While Mariupol remains under Russian occupation, it will not be possible to ascertain how many residents were directly killed by Russian bombing or tortured to death, and how many died as the result of Russia’s systematic destruction of infrastructure, removal of medical equipment and personnel, and failure to even begin to restore what they destroyed. In either case, however, Russia had targeted civilians and demonstrated total disregard for human life.

Perhaps the most telling of the satellite images was, however, that showing a Russian military compound.  While Ukrainians freeze in apartments that Russia destroyed and does not want to rebuild, the invaders are more than happy to put money and effort into building a military compound so as to consolidate their military presence.

Reports, backed by interviews and video footage from the Mariupol authorities and from News of Donbas suggest that tens of thousands of Mariupol residents are living in damaged accommodation without any heating.  This is while the Russian-installed ‘administration’ live in adequate accommodation and the keys to any new flats are received either by the Russian military or by those closely collaborating with them (more details here).

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