New satellite images show an expanding burial site in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to a report released by the UK-based Center for Information Resilience (CIR).
Investigators at the CIR used satellite images to determine that approximately 1,400 new graves were added at Mariupol Starokrymske Cemetery between May 12 and June 29.
CIR researchers estimate that five times more new graves are dug each month than before the Russian invasion.
“Our report illustrates the continuing, extreme pressure on civilian life in Ukraine, especially in the occupied territories. Provisional burials and the growing number of graves around Ukraine, especially in and around occupied territories, are a sharp illustration of the number of civilian deaths after the Russian invasion, ”said Benjamin Strick, director of investigations at CIR.
Russia announced in late May that it had taken control of Mariupol, after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the port city to smoking ruin.
Using images taken by Planet Labs PBC, a private satellite operator, the CIR estimated that by May 12, the number of graves at Mariupol Starokrymske Cemetery had increased by 1,700 since the start of the war, and by June 29, another 1,400 graves had been added, which brings the total number of excavations since the invasion to 3,100.
Pictures show that in the pre-war period between October 21 and March 28, about 1,000 graves were added.
Since Russia conquered Mariupol, the city has not experienced further fighting, and the approximately 90,000 Ukrainians left behind have been left with little access to electricity, telephone, internet, water or health care.
The CIR said the rise in peacetime graves could be explained by the fact that hundreds of bodies were uncovered under destroyed buildings in the city.
In late May, Petro Andryushchenko, a senior assistant to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor who now operates outside the Russian-controlled city, said about 200 decomposing bodies had been found buried in the basement of a Mariupol high-rise.
In all, Andryushchenko estimated that 22,000 people died in the city during the two-month fighting. A person among several coordinating funerals in the city previously told the Guardian that the total number could be closer to 50,000.
The United Nations Office on Human Rights says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on 24 February. Kiev says that the true figure is many times higher.
Little is known about the situation in Mariupol, which has largely been cut off from the outside world with its limited mobile phone and internet connections. Pictures occasionally posted on the Telegram channel “Mariupol Now”, created by a Ukrainian volunteer to get information out of the city, show corpses being moved to burial. In a particularly gruesome picture, which the channel said was taken in June, dozens of corpses are seen lying in a parking lot.
The CIR report said the high death toll seen in Mariupol during the fighting for the city “correlates with Russian movements and incessant shelling within a reasonable proximity”.
In Manhush, a town near Mariupol, the CIR analyzed a burial site that was first reported by Ukrainian officials on April 21, when the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security in Ukraine announced that locals had found a new 30-meter-long mass grave.
According to the CIR, planetary images showed an increase in activity at the burial site from April 24 to May 8. The Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security claimed that 3,000 to 9,000 Mariupol residents were buried in the mass grave.
The report also analyzed a cemetery in Pioneer, a settlement outside Mariupol, which according to the report showed the emergence of trenches at burial sites that coincided with newly created Russian military positions.
“In cases where Mariupol indicates the emergence of several mass graves nearby, such as Pioneer, the high death rate that correlates with Russian movements and incessant shelling within a reasonable proximity,” the report concludes, that combined with other open source evidence. “A clear picture emerges of the Kremlin leading their campaign in violation of international human rights conventions.”