Ukrainian tanks move in a street in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, April 11, 2022. (Evgeniy Maloletka, Associated Press)
Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes
KYIV, Ukraine – Six weeks of brutal Russian siege have left more than 10,000 civilians dead in the southern port city of Mariupol and corpses “covered with blankets through the streets,” the mayor of the cut-off city said when the West warned that a Russian. convoy and other troops and weapons were on their way to a suspected planned Russian attack in the eastern part of Ukraine.
Mariupol has been the site of some of the heaviest attacks and civilian casualties of the 6-week-old war, but Russian land, sea and air forces fighting to conquer it have increasingly limited information about the circumstances inside the city. .
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko spoke by telephone on Monday with The Associated Press and accused Russian forces of blocking weeks of attempts at humanitarian convoys into the city, in part to hide the carnage there from the outside world. Boychenko said the death toll there could exceed 20,000.
Boychenko also provided new details about allegations by Ukrainian officials in recent weeks 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 this month has already prompted widespread condemnation and accusations from Ukrainians and from Western leaders that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine .
Elsewhere, US officials point to new 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 divided by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and separatists who have declared independent states. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to be hoping for more local support and logistics and terrain in the Donbas, favoring 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 have 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 Bucha outside Kiev, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.
In Bucha, work on 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 “filtering 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 set the number of people deported to Russia or separatist territory in Ukraine at 33,000 or more.
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.”
Russian forces are likely to try to encircle the Donbas region from north and south as well as east, said retired British General Richard Barrons, co-chairman of UK-based strategic consulting firm Universal Defense & Security Solutions.
The soil in that part of Ukraine is flatter, more open and less wooded – so the Ukrainian ambush tactics used around Kiev may be less successful, Barrons said.
“In terms of result, it’s fine balanced right now,” Barrons said. If the Russians learned from their past failures, concentrated more strength, coupled their air force to ground forces better, and improved their logistics, he said, “then they might start to overwhelm the Ukrainian positions eventually, though I still think it would be a struggle. of enormous attrition. “
There are still questions about the ability of depleted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer much of the land after determined Ukrainian defenders rejected their advance on Kiev.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukraine has already repulsed several attacks from Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – they make up the Donbas – which has resulted in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.
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.
A residential area in Kharkiv was hit by an oncoming fire on Monday afternoon. Associated Press reporters saw firefighters put out the fire and check for victims after the attack, and saw that at least five people had been killed, including a child.
Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, said earlier Monday that Russian shelling had killed 11 people in the last 24 hours.
Contributor: AP journalists around the world