Thousands of civilians in Mariupol may have died last month

Thousands of civilians in Mariupol may have died last month

© Reuters. A member of the pro-Russian troops walks near a residential building destroyed during the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 28, 2022. REUTERS / Alexander Ermochenko

Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Thousands of civilians may have died in the besieged port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine since the bombing began four weeks ago, the head of the UN human rights mission told Reuters on Tuesday, giving his first estimate.

Nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in Mariupol since it was besieged by Russian forces a month ago, Mayor’s spokesman Vadym Boichenko said on Monday.

His office said 90% of the buildings in Mariupol were damaged and 40% destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens and factories.

“We believe that there could be thousands of dead and civilian victims in Mariupol,” said Matilda Bogner, head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine, which deploys about 60 observers, in a virtual interview.

She said the mission does not have an accurate estimate, but is working to gather more information.

Local officials, citing witness statements, estimated last week that 300 people were killed in the March 16 bombing of a theater in Mariupol where people were hiding.

The UN Office of Human Rights on Tuesday confirmed that 1,179 civilians had been killed and 1,860 wounded across Ukraine in a five-week-old conflict amid delays in reporting on hostilities, the statement said.

At a briefing last week, Bogner said UN observers had received more information about mass graves in Mariupol, including one that appeared to contain 200 bodies.

“As far as mass graves are concerned, we have actually now decided to call it ‘improvised graves’,” Bogner said on Tuesday.

This is because the term “mass grave” can imply victims of crime, while the people who died in Mariupol reflect death from a number of causes, she said.

Civilian casualties in the conflict are believed to be “a fairly small portion” of bodies in makeshift graves in parks and gardens, she said.

Some people who died naturally were never taken to mortuaries or individual graves due to hostilities, while others never reached a doctor, she added.

It is unclear whether soldiers were buried in the makeshift graves, she said.

Robert Mardini, director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Reuters in a separate interview Tuesday that there was “no first-hand information” about the victims of the Mariupol theater bombing.

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