Hundreds of freshly dug graves have surfaced at a mass grave near the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as the death toll from the Russian siege continues to rise.
Between late June and mid-October, some 1,500 new pits appeared on satellite images from Staryi Krym, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the center of Mariupol.
Witnesses say Russian soldiers now occupying Mariupol have spent the past few months removing the remains of Ukrainians from their bombed-out houses for burial.
Kiev now believes that at least 25,000 civilians were killed in the months-long Russian siege of Mariupol – in which people were forced to drink water from radiators to survive.
The satellite images were collected by technology company Maxar and analyzed by experts on behalf of the BBC Panorama team ahead of the release of a new film – Mariupol: The People’s Story – which airs on BBC One tonight at 9pm.
1,500 new graves have appeared on a mass grave north of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol (in yellow), in addition to 1,700 that appeared between the Russian invasion and May 12 (in red) and 1,400 that were dug between May and June 29 (in orange)
The mass cemetery is located in Staryi Krym, about five miles from the center of Mariupol, which has been occupied by Russia since mid-May
Of those 25,000, officials say, between 5,000 and 7,000 are believed to have died under the rubble after their homes were hit by Russian shells.
Mariupol, a strategic city on the road from the Russian border regions to occupied Crimea, was one of the first targets of Putin’s invasion.
It was bombed and shelled from the first day of the attack and was completely surrounded by Kremlin troops in early March.
Russian artillery units then systematically leveled city blocks in an attempt to capture it from Ukraine, culminating in a stalemate at the Azovstal steel mill.
Ukrainian troops held the factory for weeks, but finally surrendered in May after running out of food, ammunition and medical supplies.
Mariupol city officials say that during the siege, all food, water and medical supplies were cut off and people spent weeks in their basements hiding from grenades.
Grave diggers bury bodies of civilians killed in Russian bombing raids in roadside pits after burials in cemeteries became impossible
Analysts have been monitoring three mass cemeteries near Mariupol since the city fell to Russia and say they have been growing steadily since the spring (pictured, a site in Vynohradne)
Routes to and from Mariupol were heavily undermined and shelled, meaning humanitarian convoys struggled to get aid to people. Civilian convoys trying to evacuate people were often fired upon.
Footage taken in the city during the siege showed mass graves being dug along the road so corpses could be buried.
Survivors recalled leaving the corpses’ relatives in their homes for days because they were unable to bury them, or dig shallow pits in their gardens.
As a result, the exact death toll remains a matter of conjecture. But Ukrainian officials have long warned that the toll on Mariupol will almost certainly dwarf the atrocities discovered in Bucha, Irpin and Izyum.
Analysts have been monitoring several mass cemeteries around Mariupol for evidence of the true magnitude of the number of civilian casualties.
Satellite images of tombs in Staryi Krym, Manhush and Vynohradne show that they have all been growing steadily since spring.
Officials in Kiev say 25,000 civilians are believed to have died during the Russian siege of Mariupol, including 7,000 who died under the rubble of their destroyed homes
Analysts saw 1,700 new graves added to the Staryi Krym site between the start of the Russian invasion and May 12 – shortly before the last Ukrainian troops surrendered.
Between that date and June 29, an additional 1,400 graves were added when a new satellite image of the area was taken.
Between June 29 and October 12, 1,500 new graves – a total of 4,600 graves in seven months – appeared in this one spot.
Analysts said it is not possible to determine how many bodies are buried in each pit, meaning the real death toll could be even higher.
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