KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol have found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday, as new horrors are revealed in the crumbling city that has experienced some of the worst suffering of the 3 month war.
Bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the neighborhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. He did not say when they were discovered, but the number of casualties made it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.
Heavy fighting, meanwhile, has been reported in Donbass, the eastern industrial heartland that Moscow’s forces intend to seize. Russian troops have taken control of an industrial town that houses a thermal power station and have stepped up their efforts to surround and capture Sievierodonetsk and other towns.
Twelve people were killed by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region of Donbass, according to the regional governor. And the governor of Lugansk region in Donbass said the region was going through its “most difficult period” in the eight years since separatist fighting broke out there.
“The Russians are advancing in all directions at the same time. They brought an insane number of fighters and equipment,” Governor Serhii Haidai wrote on Telegram. “The invaders are killing our cities, destroying everything around.” He added that Luhansk was becoming “like Mariupol”.
Mariupol has been pounded relentlessly during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel mill where they had taken up position. Russian forces were already holding the rest of the city, where around 100,000 people remain out of a pre-war population of 450,000, many of whom are trapped during the encirclement with little food, water, heat or ‘electricity..
At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and burying the dead in mass graves.
During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity ward and a theater where civilians took refuge. An Associated Press investigation found nearly 600 people died in the theater attackdouble the figure estimated by the Ukrainian authorities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused the Russians of waging an “all-out war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction on his country as possible.
“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said, referring to the end of World War II.
Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbass for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring towns are the only part of the Luhansk region of Donbass still under the control of the Ukrainian government.
Russian forces achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along entrenched positions, British military officials said.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces in the region face a difficult situation.
“Virtually all the might of the Russian military, all it has left, is on the offensive there,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday night in his nightly address to the nation. “Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
In the Donetsk region, troops from Moscow took control of the industrial city of Svitlodarsk, home to a thermal power station and had a population of around 11,000 before the war, and raised the Russian flag there.
“They have now hung their rag on the local administration building,” Serhii Goshko, the head of the local Ukrainian military administration, told Ukrainian radio Vilny, referring to the Russian flag. Goshko said armed units were patrolling the streets of Svitlodarsk, checking residents’ documents.
Russian troops also shelled the eastern city of Sloviansk with cluster munitions, hitting a private building, according to Mayor Vadym Lyakh. He said casualties had been averted as many people had already left their homes, and he urged the remaining residents to evacuate to the west. Heavy fighting was also underway in the town of Lyman.
Amid the fighting, two senior Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance had been slower than expected, despite swearing the offensive would achieve its objectives.
Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council. said the Russian government “is not running after deadlines”. And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russian-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow was deliberately slowing its offensive to allow residents of encircled towns to evacuate – although that the forces repeatedly hit civilian targets.
Hours later, Zelenskyy mocked Shoigu’s claim.
“Well, after three months of looking for an explanation as to why they couldn’t break up Ukraine in three days, they couldn’t think of anything better than to say that’s what they planned” , he said in his video speech.
Russian officials also announced that Moscow forces have completed clearing the waters off Mariupol and that a safe corridor will open on Wednesday for the exit of as many as 70 foreign ships from Ukraine’s southern coast.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, there were signs of recovery after weeks of shelling. Residents formed long queues to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and other staples this week. Moscow forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, retreating towards the Russian border in the face of Ukrainian counterattacks, although Russia continues to shell the area from afar, Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday.
Galina Kolembed, coordinator of the aid distribution center, said more and more people were returning to the city. Kolembed said the center provides food to more than 1,000 people every day, a number that continues to grow.
“A lot of them have young children and are spending their money on the children, so they need help with food,” she said.
Meanwhile, the wife of the commander-in-chief who resisted inside the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol said on Tuesday she had a brief phone conversation with her husband, who surrendered to the Russians and was taken prisoner last week.
Kateryna Prokopenko, married to Azov regiment chief Denys Prokopenko, said the call was cut off before he could say anything about himself.
She said the call was made possible by an agreement between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by the Red Cross.
Prokopenko and Yuliia Fedosiuk, the wife of another soldier, said several families had received calls over the past two days. The women said they hoped the soldiers would not be tortured and would eventually “come home”.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk region, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that preparations were underway for a trial of captured Ukrainian soldiers, including the Mariupol defenders.
Becatoros brought from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staff from around the world contributed.
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