Mayor: More than 10,000 civilians dead in Ukrainian port city

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Six weeks of brutal Russian siege has left more than 10,000 civilians dead in the southern port city of Mariupol and corpses “lurking in the streets”, the mayor of this isolated city said, as the warned the West that a Russian convoy and other troops and weapons were on the move for a suspected Russian assault planned in eastern Ukraine.

Mariupol was the site of some of the heaviest attacks and civilian suffering of the 6 Week War, but the land, sea and air assaults of the Russian forces fighting to capture it have increasingly limited information on the circumstances within the city.

Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone on Monday, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko accused Russian forces of blocking weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys in the city, in part to conceal the carnage from the outside world. Boychenko said the death toll could exceed 20,000.

Boychenko also gave new details about allegations by Ukrainian officials in recent weeks that Russian forces brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of siege victims.

Russian forces took many bodies to a huge shopping mall where there are warehouses and refrigerators, Boychenko said.

“Mobile crematoriums have come in the form of trucks: you open it up, and there’s a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,” he said.

Boychenko spoke of a location within Ukrainian-controlled territory but outside of Mariupol. The mayor said he had several sources for his description of the alleged methodical burning of bodies by Russian forces in the city, but did not elaborate further on the sources of his information.

The discovery of large numbers of civilians apparently executed after Russian forces withdrew from towns and villages around the capital, Kyiv, this month has already sparked widespread condemnation and accusations from Ukrainians and Western leaders. that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Elsewhere, US officials are reporting new signs that the Russian military is preparing for a major offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, changing direction after Russian forces failed in their initial attempt to capture kyiv.

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Donbass has been torn apart by fighting between Russia-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and the separatists have declared independent states there. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to be hoping for more local support, logistics and terrain in Donbas that favor a larger and better-armed Russian military, potentially allowing Russian troops to gain more territory and weaken forces Ukrainian fighters.

Russia has appointed a veteran general to lead its new push into the eastern Donbass region.

A senior US defense official on Monday described a long Russian convoy now rolling towards the eastern town of Izyum with artillery, air force and infantry support, as part of a redeployment for this which seems to be the impending Russian campaign.

More artillery is deployed near the city of Donetsk, while ground combat units that have withdrawn from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions appear destined to be refitted and resupplied before positioning themselves in Donbass, the official said. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the American interior. military ratings.

With their offensive thwarted in many parts of the country, Russian forces have increasingly relied on the bombardment of cities – a strategy that has flattened many urban areas and killed thousands.

The UN children’s agency said nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children fled their homes in the six weeks since the Russian invasion began. The United Nations has verified that 142 children were killed and 229 injured, although the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the town of Buchaoutside kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.

In Bucha, the work of exhuming bodies from a mass grave in a cemetery has resumed.

Galyna Feoktistova waited for hours in the cold and rain hoping to identify her 50-year-old son, who was shot and killed more than a month ago, but eventually returned home to warm up . “He’s still here,” said his surviving son, Andriy.

In Mariupol, around 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, heat and means of communication, the mayor said.

Only residents who have passed through Russian “filtration camps” are released from the city, Boychenko said.

Ukrainian officials say Russian troops are confiscating Ukrainian citizens’ passports, then moving them to ‘filtration camps’ in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine before sending them to remote and economically depressed parts of Russia .

Boychenko said on Monday that those who failed “screening” were transferred to makeshift prisons. He put the number of people taken to Russia or separatist territory in Ukraine at 33,000 or more.

Russia has denied moving people against their will.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned Ukrainians that Russia may use chemical weapons in Mariupol. “We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskyy said in his Monday evening speech.

Western leaders warned even before Russian troops entered Ukraine that Russia could use unconventional weapons there, especially chemical agents.

A Russian-allied separatist official, Eduard Basurin, appeared to urge their use on Monday, telling Russian state television that Russian-backed forces should seize a giant metals factory in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces blockading First all factory outlets. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out,” he said.

A Ukrainian regiment, without proof, also claimed on Monday that a drone had dropped a toxic substance in Mariupol. He said 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. But Kirby noted the administration’s continuing concerns “about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”

Russian forces are likely to attempt to encircle the Donbass region from the north and south as well as from the east, said retired British general Richard Barrons, co-chairman of British strategic consultancy Universal Defense & Security Solutions.

The terrain in this part of Ukraine is flatter, more open and less forested – so Ukrainian ambush tactics used around kyiv could be less successful, Barrons said.

“As far as the outcome goes, it’s finely balanced right now,” Barrons said. If the Russians learned from their previous failures, concentrated more force, better linked their air force to the ground forces and improved their logistics, he said, “then they could end up overwhelming the Ukrainian positions, although I still think it would be a battle.” of enormous attrition.

Questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and demoralized Russian forces to capture much ground, after determined Ukrainian defenders pushed back their advance on kyiv.

The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukraine had already repelled several assaults by Russian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – they make up Donbass – resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.

Western military analysts say Russia’s assault is increasingly focused on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the south.

A residential area of ​​Kharkiv was hit by a fire on Monday afternoon. Associated Press reporters watched firefighters put out the blaze and search for victims after the attack, and found that at least five people had been killed, including a child.

Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, said earlier on Monday that Russian shelling had killed 11 people in the past 24 hours.

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Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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