Ukraine said on Monday that tens of thousands of people were likely killed in Russia’s assault on the southeastern city of Mariupol, while the country’s human rights ombudsman accused Russian forces in the region of torture and executions.
Reuters confirmed the widespread destruction in Mariupol but was unable to verify suspected crimes or estimates of the dead in the strategic city, which sits between Russia-annexed Crimea and areas of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists. Russia.
“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not letting up on their offensive,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers without elaborating.
If confirmed, it would be by far the highest death toll ever recorded anywhere in Ukraine, where cities, towns and villages have come under relentless shelling and bodies, including civilians, have been seen in the streets.
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The head of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russia’s RIA news agency on Monday that more than 5,000 people may have been killed in Mariupol. He said that Ukrainian forces were responsible.
The number of people leaving the city has decreased as Russian forces have slowed down pre-departure checks, Petro Andryushchenko, deputy mayor of Mariupol, told the Telegram messaging service on Monday.
Some 10,000 people were waiting to be screened by Russian forces, he said. Russia does not allow military personnel to leave with civilian evacuees. There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which has previously blamed Ukraine for blocking the evacuations.
Citing figures from the Mariupol city administration, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said 33,000 Mariupol residents had been deported to Russia or Russian-backed separatist-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine. Russia said on Sunday it had “evacuated” 723,000 people from Ukraine since the start of what it called its “special operation.” Moscow denies targeting civilians.
“Witnesses report that Russian national guard troops and ‘Kadyrovite’ (Chechen) units are making illegal arrests, torturing detainees and executing them for any pro-Ukrainian stance,” Denisova said in a Telegram post in Mariupol.
The Russian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the torture allegations.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Geraschenko said in a televised interview Monday that Ukrainian “deportees” were kept in guarded sanatoriums and holiday camps.
“These people are not allowed to move freely, nor have free access to communication platforms to contact their relatives in Ukraine,” he said, without citing direct evidence.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Reuters the number of checkpoints along the Russian-controlled corridor between Mariupol and the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia had increased from three to 15.
Mariupol was among nine humanitarian corridors agreed with Russia on Monday to evacuate people from besieged eastern regions, but its corridor was for private cars only, Vereshchuk said on Telegram.
It was not possible to agree on the provision of buses, he said.
Ukraine says Russian forces are massing for a new offensive in eastern areas, including Mariupol, where people have been without water, food and power for weeks.