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Topline

Satellite photos appear to show a mass grave near the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, satellite firm Maxar Technologies said Thursday, after local officials claimed Russia had disposed of civilians’ bodies in the area—as Russian forces seek to oust Mariupol’s remaining Ukrainian defenders following more than a month of brutal, deadly fighting.

Key Facts

Maxar said the mass grave site is located next to an existing cemetery on the edge of Manhush, a small town about 12 miles west of Mariupol.

Changes to the site appeared to begin in late March, and the site now houses over 200 graves, Maxar estimated, releasing photos taken in March and early April.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko and his advisor Petro Andriushchenko both accused the Russian military on Thursday of removing dead civilians’ bodies from the streets of Mariupol and transporting them to a burial site in Manhush, CNN reported.

Key Background

Russian troops have surrounded Mariupol for over a month, pummeling civilian areas with heavy aerial attacks and causing food and other basic goods to run low. Boychenko estimated last week Mariupol’s civilian death toll may surpass 20,000, and said Wednesday about 100,000 residents are still struggling to flee the city, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000. Russian forces have advanced through most of Mariupol in recent days, with the final Ukrainian fighters cornered in the Azovstal steel plant, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank. Capturing the city is likely central to Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine: Mariupol would form part of a land corridor between the Russian mainland and the annexed Crimean Peninsula, and it lies within Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region—a mostly Russian-speaking territory Russia has pledged to “liberate.”

What To Watch For

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly ordered a siege of the Azovstal plant. The Institute for the Study of War said Wednesday the Russian military will probably seek to declare victory by May 9—a date with historical significance in Russia because it corresponds to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945—and “may undertake hasty and poorly-organized offensive actions to clear Azovstal before this date.”

Tangent

Russian forces were also accused of digging a mass grave in the formerly-occupied Kyiv suburb of Bucha earlier this month. The widespread civilian deaths reported in Bucha have sparked international outrage, leading President Joe Biden to accuse Russia of genocide. Russia has denied targeting civilians and claimed the scores of dead bodies spotted in Bucha after the Russian military’s withdrawal were staged, though satellite images show dead bodies lined the streets during the period in which Russia occupied the town.

Further Reading

Here’s Why Mariupol Is Such A Prized Target For Russia (Forbes)

Source: Forbes

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