Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Bodies are “carpeted in the streets” of Mariupol after Russian forces killed more than 10,000 civilians over the past six weeks in their failed battle to capture the strategic southern port, the mayor said, while Western powers warned Tuesday of a continuing escalation of a Russian offensive. Suspect in eastern Ukraine.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russian forces continue to withdraw from Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine, focused on the Donbass region, where Russian-allied separatists have declared independence.
“The fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,” the ministry said in a tweet. “Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk, with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push towards Kramatorsk.”
The southeastern port city of Mariupol has seen some of the heaviest attacks and civilian suffering in the six-week-old war, but the ground, sea and air attacks by Russian forces fighting to control it have increasingly limited information on conditions inside the city.
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Mariupol’s mayor, Vadim Boychenko, accused Russian forces of blocking weeks of attempts by humanitarian convoys into the city to hide the massacre. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could exceed 20,000.
Boychenko also provided new details of Ukrainian officials’ allegations that Russian forces brought mobile crematorium equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of siege victims.
Boychenko said that Russian forces had taken many of the bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators.
“Mobile crematoriums arrived in the form of trucks…you open them, there is a pipe inside, and these corpses are burnt,” he said.
Boychenko spoke from a location in Ukraine-controlled territory but outside Mariupol. The mayor said he had several sources for his description of the alleged cremation by Russian forces in the city, but did not provide further details of his sources of information.
The discovery of large numbers of civilians apparently executed after Russian forces withdrew from cities and towns around the capital, Kyiv, has sparked widespread condemnation and assertions that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
US officials are also pointing to more signs that the Russian military is preparing for a major offensive in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, shifting its focus after Russian forces failed in their initial campaign to seize Kyiv.
Donbass has been torn apart by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. Military strategists say Russian commanders appear to be hoping for local support, logistics and terrain in the Donbass in favor of the larger and better-armed Russian army, which could allow Russian forces to gain more territory and weaken Ukraine’s fighting forces.
Russia has appointed a seasoned general to lead its renewed campaign in the eastern Donbass region.
A senior US defense official on Monday described a long Russian convoy now heading toward the eastern city of Izyum with artillery, air and infantry support, as part of a redeployment of what appears to be the looming Russian campaign.
More artillery is being deployed near the city of Donetsk, while ground combat units that have withdrawn from the vicinity of Kyiv and Chernihiv appear destined to replenish and resupply before stationing in the Donbass, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. Interior. Military assessments.
With their offensive thwarted in many parts of the country, Russian forces increasingly relied on bombing cities – a strategy that destroyed many urban areas and killed thousands of people.
Nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have fled their homes in the six weeks since the Russian invasion began, the United Nations Children’s Fund said. The United Nations has verified that 142 children were killed and 229 injured, although the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.
Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the town of Buchaoutside Kyiv, air raids on hospitals A rocket attack killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.
In Bosha, work to exhume a mass grave in the churchyard has resumed.
Galyna Feoktistova waited for hours in the cold and rain hoping to identify her 50-year-old son, who was shot dead over a month ago, but eventually came home for some warmth. “It’s still there,” said her son, Andre.
About 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, warmth and communications, said the mayor of Mariupol.
Boychenko said that only residents who passed through the Russian “purification camps” were released from the city.
Ukrainian officials have said that Russian forces are confiscating the passports of Ukrainian citizens, then transferring them to camps in separatist-held eastern Ukraine before sending them to remote, economically distressed regions of Russia.
Boychenko said on Monday that those who did not pass the “liquidation” process were taken to makeshift prisons. He said 33,000 or more people had been transferred to Russia or the breakaway territories of Ukraine.
The Russians denied moving people against their will.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned Ukrainians that Russia may use chemical weapons in Mariupol. “We are taking this matter as seriously as possible,” Zelensky said in his Monday night address.
Western leaders had warned even before Russian forces entered Ukraine that Russia might resort to unconventional weapons there, especially chemical agents.
Eduard Basurin, a Russia-allied separatist official, appeared to have urged their use on Monday, telling Russian state television that Russian-backed forces should seize a giant metallurgical plant in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces by first closing all exits to the plant. “And then we will use chemical forces to get her out of there,” he said.
A Ukrainian regiment also claimed, without evidence, on Monday that a drone had dropped a toxic substance in Mariupol. She indicated that there were no serious injuries.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the United States could not confirm the drone report from Mariupol. But Kirby noted the administration’s continuing concerns “about Russia’s ability to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”
Western military analysts say the Russian offensive is increasingly focused on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the south.
Questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and frustrated Russian forces to conquer so much territory, but after their advance on Kyiv was repulsed by determined Ukrainian defenders.
Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Anna wrote from Bucha, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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