KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Corpses are now “carpeted through the streets” of Mariupol after Russian troops killed more than 10,000 civilians over the past six weeks in their failed battle to capture the strategic southern port, the mayor said. Western powers warned on Tuesday of an ongoing build-up of a suspected Russian attack in eastern Ukraine.
The British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces were continuing to withdraw from Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine, focusing on the Donbas region, where Russian-allied separatists have claimed independence.
“The fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,” the ministry said in a tweet. “Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push against Kramatorsk.”
The southeastern port city of Mariupol has experienced some of the heaviest attacks and civilian casualties in the 6-week-old war, but Russian forces’ attacks on land, at sea and in the air fighting to capture it have increasingly limited information about the circumstances. in the city.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko spoke by telephone with The Associated Press on Monday, accusing Russian forces of blocking weeks of attempts at humanitarian convoys into the city, in part to hide the carnage. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could exceed 20,000.
Boychenko also provided new details about allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the bodies of the victims of the siege.
Russian forces have taken many bodies to a huge shopping mall where there are storage facilities and refrigerators, Boychenko said.
“Mobile crematoria have arrived in the form of trucks: you open it and there’s a pipe inside and these corpses are burned,” he said.
Boychenko spoke from a place in Ukrainian-controlled territory, but outside Mariupol. The mayor said he had several sources for his description of the alleged methodical burning of corpses by Russian forces in the city, but he did not further describe the sources of his information.
The discovery of a large number of apparently executed civilians after Russian forces withdrew from cities and towns around the capital Kyiv has already given rise to widespread condemnation and allegations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
U.S. officials also point to further signs that Russia’s military is preparing for a major offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, shifting focus after Russian forces failed in their initial attempt to capture Kiev.
The Donbas have been torn apart by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to be hoping that local support, logistics and terrain in the Donbas favor Russia’s larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing Russian troops to gain more territory and weaken Ukraine’s combat forces.
Russia has appointed an experienced general to lead its renewed advance in the eastern Donbas region.
A senior U.S. defense official on Monday described a long Russian convoy now rolling toward the eastern city of Izyum with artillery, aviation and infantry support as part of the redistribution to what appears to be the looming Russian campaign.
More artillery is being deployed near the city of Donetsk, while land-fighting units withdrawing from around the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas appear to be destined for reconstruction and supply before positioning themselves in the Donbas, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal United States. military assessments.
With their offensive in many parts of the country thwarted, Russian forces have increasingly relied on bombing cities – a strategy that has flattened many urban areas and killed thousands of people.
The United Nations Children’s Organization said nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children had fled their homes in the six weeks since Russia’s invasion began. The UN has confirmed that 142 children have been killed and 229 injured, although the actual figures are likely to be much higher.
Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the city of Buchaoutside Kiev, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.
In Bucha, the work of digging corpses from a mass grave in a cemetery resumed.
Galyna Feoktistova waited for hours in the cold and rain in hopes of identifying her 50-year-old son who was shot and killed more than a month ago, but eventually she went home to get some warmth. “He’s still there,” said her surviving son, Andriy.
In Mariupol, about 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, heat and communications, the mayor said.
Only the residents who have passed the Russian “filtration camps” will be released from the city, Boychenko said.
Ukrainian officials say Russian troops confiscate passports from Ukrainian citizens and then move them to camps in Ukraine’s separatist-controlled east before sending them to remote, economically depressed areas of Russia.
Boychenko said Monday that those who did not pass the “filtration” have been moved to makeshift prisons. He said 33,000 or more people had been taken to Russia or separatist territory in Ukraine.
Russian has refused to move people against their will.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Ukrainians that Russia could use chemical weapons in Mariupol. “We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskyy said in his evening speech Monday.
Western leaders warned even before Russian troops moved into Ukraine that Russia could resort to unconventional weapons there, especially chemical means.
A Russian-allied separatist official, Eduard Basurin, appeared to be calling for their use on Monday, telling Russian state television that Russian-backed forces were to seize a giant metal factory in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces by first blocking all exits. from the factory. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out of there,” he said.
A Ukrainian regiment, without evidence, also claimed Monday that a drone had dropped a toxic substance in Mariupol. This indicated that there were no serious injuries.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the United States could not confirm the drone report from Mariupol. However, Kirby noted the administration’s persistent concerns “about Russia’s potential to use a variety of means of rioting, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”
Western military analysts say Russia’s attacks are increasingly focusing on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the south.
However, questions remain about the ability of depleted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer much of the land after determined Ukrainian defenders rejected their advance on Kiev.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine