Fresh satellite footage has revealed the extent of the carnage wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s forces in the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine as hundreds of civilians are left to starve underground.
The imagery, obtained by Maxar Technologies, appears to show a dramatic expansion of mass graves which were dug on the edge of the port city in March to accommodate the victims of Russia’s indiscriminate bombing campaigns.
Analysis of a series of images taken from mid-March to mid-April suggests the site, which lies just 12 miles from the centre of Mariupol, now contains more than 200 new graves, according to Maxar.
The city, which was a bustling metropolis home to some 400,000 people prior to Russia‘s invasion in late February, has been utterly obliterated by eight weeks of constant bombardment.
Now, all that remains of Ukraine’s resistance there is a small contingent of fighters and civilians sheltering in the Azovstal steel plant, which remains surrounded by invading soldiers.
‘Hundreds of civilians, children, injured Ukrainian defenders are trapped in plant’s shelters. They have almost no food, water, essential medicine,’ a Ukrainian foreign ministry statement said this morning.
‘An urgent humanitarian corridor is needed from the Azovstal plant with guarantees people will be safe.’
But Putin today cruelly instructed his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, to command troops to seal off all routes out of the plant – effectively condemning those trapped within to a slow and painful death from thirst, hunger and exhaustion.
‘Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot not pass through,’ the Russian President told Shoigu, before declaring the city ‘successfully liberated’.
The first satellite image, taken on March 19, 2022, shows a cemetery on the outskirts of Mariupol. A large empty field can be seen nearby the graves on the right. But the second image, taken on April 3, clearly shows several rows of freshly-dug mass graves running along the length of the field by the cemetery. Thousands of civilians are believed to have died in Mariupol after eight weeks of constant Russian bombardment
This image, taken on March 26, shows the expansion of the mass grave site in progress. Weeks before the horrors of Bucha and other towns north of Kyiv were discovered when Russian forces withdrew in early April, the citizens of Mariupol had already been forced to excavate vast swathes of land to clear their streets of the bodies
A local resident pushes a dog in a pram past a building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 19, 2022
Emergency management specialists transport the body of a person killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 21, 2022
Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of heavy shelling by Russian forces
Putin today cruelly instructed his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, to command troops to seal off all routes out of the Azovstal steel plant – effectively condemning the Ukrainian fighters and civilians trapped within to a slow and painful death from thirst, hunger and exhaustion
A satellite image taken on March 19 shows a large field on the outskirts of Mariupol completely bare, yet just one week later on March 26, several graves appear to have been dug.
A third picture, taken on April 3, shows several rows of freshly-dug graves stretching across the length of the field, symbolising the brutality of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the sheer extent of the civilian casualties.
Weeks before the horrors of Bucha and other towns north of Kyiv were discovered when Russian forces withdrew in early April, the citizens of Mariupol had already been forced to excavate vast swathes of land to clear their streets of the bodies.
Russia launched a savage campaign of air and missile attacks on Mariupol just days after the invasion began – a tactic its forces have continued without reprieve ever since.
The port’s strategic significance meant it quickly became a high priority target for Russia in the early days of the war.
Mariupol is the biggest Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov and the main port serving the industries and agriculture of eastern Ukraine.
On the eve of the war, it was the biggest city still held by Ukrainian authorities in Luhansk or Donetsk, the two eastern provinces known as the Donbas that Moscow has demanded Ukraine cede to pro-Russian separatists.
Control of Mariupol means Russia commands the entire coastline of the Sea of Azov, and has a secure overland route linking the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, with mainland Russia and the parts of eastern Ukraine held by separatists.
It links up two of the main axes of Russia’s invasion, and frees Russian forces to join the main offensive being waged against the bulk of Ukraine’s army in the east.
The city’s capture has both strategic and symbolic importance, boosting Putin’s hopes to demonstrate major success by Russia’s Victory Day on May 9, with operations set to ramp up to coincide with the celebrations, the British MoD said today.
But if Putin’s forces eventually erase all resistance in the port and claim it as their own, they will be left with a smouldering shell of a city.
Mariupol’s mayor Vadym Boychenko said earlier this month that more than 90 per cent of the urban centre’s infrastructure has been damaged, with more than 40 per cent ‘unrecoverable’.
Boychenko also said more than 10,000 civilians are believed to have died in the Russian attacks.
Investigations are on-going into war crimes in the city, with two attacks – one on a maternity ward and another on a theatre where hundreds of civilians were taking shelter at the time – of particular focus.
The final Ukrainian holdout in Mariupol is located in the Azovstal steel works by the harbour, where hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainian fighters and civilians are trapped.
Chechen warlord and Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov yesterday declared the plant would be in Russian hands ‘by lunchtime’, but Putin today ordered his military not to seize the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance.
Rather than sending his troops into the plant, which has a sprawling labyrinth of tunnels underneath it, Putin instead chose to have his forces seal off all entries and exits to and from the plant, effectively creating a tomb from which the sheltering Ukrainians cannot escape.
‘I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary,’ Putin told Shoigu in a televised meeting at the Kremlin. ‘I order you to cancel it.’
He said his decision not to storm the steelworks was motivated by the desire to safeguard the lives of Russian soldiers.
‘There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,’ he said.
‘Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot not pass through.’
Shoigu confirmed the plant was ‘securely blocked’, leading Putin to deliver a final message to Ukrainian fighters in Azovstal who had not yet surrendered.
He asked them to lay down their arms, saying Russia would treat them with respect and would provide medical assistance to those injured.
But the message was met with incredulity from Ukrainian authorities, who say Russia has time and again launched attacks upon previously agreed ‘humanitarian corridors’, preventing many civilians from escaping the city to safety.
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today announced a new raft of sanctions targeting individuals and companies believed to be aiding Russia’s war effort, citing the brutality in Mariupol as clear evidence of Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.
‘We are relentless in support of Ukraine,’ Truss said.
‘The depravity of Russia’s assault on the people of Ukraine is plain for all to see.
‘They are deliberately targeting hospitals, schools and transport hubs in Mariupol and beyond – just as they did in Chechnya and Syria.’
In a statement the FCDO said: ‘Since March 10 2022, Russian bombers have repeatedly dropped munitions on civilian infrastructure, including civil government buildings, hospitals, schools and transportation nodes.
‘The UK Government conclusion is that this is intentional targeting based on the types of civilian targets struck, frequency of strikes, volume of munitions and the repeated targeting of the same locations on consecutive days.’
Russia launched a savage campaign of air and missile attacks on Mariupol just days after the invasion began – a tactic its forces have continued without reprieve ever since
After Defence Minister Shoigu (pictured right today) told Vladimir Putin (pictured left) that Russia’s forces controlled the city – apart from the Azovstal steel plant – the Russian president hailed the ‘successful liberation’ of Mariupol
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered the Russian military to cancel plans to storm a Mariupol steelworks. Pictured: Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this still image obtained from a recent drone video posted on social media
On Wedensday, a Ukrainian marine believed to be holed up in the steel plant posted a Facebook video urging world leaders to help evacuation efforts.
The man, who identified himself as Serhiy Volyn of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: ‘We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children. This may be our last appeal, we may have only a few days or hours left.’
The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, Putin’s troops were ordered to shoot civilians in the city if they do not wear white ribbons on their clothes.
Russia was accused of forcing civilians to wear the white ribbons, a symbol of the Russian army, so that they become ‘bait’ for Ukrainian snipers – and in turn help Putin’s men find out where the snipers are hidden.
Petro Andriushchenko, the advisor to the Mayor of Mariupol, said on Telegram: ‘The occupiers no longer ‘mildly’ propose that civilians wear white ribbons to mark themselves out – they have turned to direct threats to open fire on anyone seen on the street without such ribbons.
‘Russians are gradually turning the city into a true ghetto for Ukrainians, at the same time using civilians as bait to detect hotspots.’
The disturbing development came as Zelensky said he was ready to swap Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe passage of civilians and Ukrainian troops who remain in Mariupol.
More than 100,000 people overall were believed trapped in Mariupol with little if any food, water, medicine or heat. The city’s pre-war population was 400,000.
A Zelensky adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter that he and other Ukrainian negotiators were ready to hold talks without conditions to save the lives of trapped Mariupol defenders and civilians. There was no immediate response from Russia.