Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Satellite images of what appeared to be rows upon rows of newly excavated mass graves on the outskirts of Mariupol shed increasingly light on the horrors of war, as Russia on Friday bombed Ukrainian strongholds at the city’s steel mill and other targets in a bid to take over. in the industrial east of the country.
“Every day they throw several bombs at Azovstal,” Petro Andryushenko, an advisor to the Mayor of Mariupol, said of the besieged steel mills. “The fighting, the bombing and the bombing does not stop.”
Other cities in the Donbass region also came under Russian fire during the night, and the attacks overlapped with efforts to evacuate civilians.
The region, home to coal mines, metallurgical plants and heavy equipment factories, is preparing for what could be an epic clash as Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to salvage Nasr from an eight-week-old war widely seen as a huge mistake. A humanitarian disaster.
Putin on Thursday declared victory in the battle for the strategic southern port city of Mariupol, even though an estimated 2,000 Ukrainians remain trapped in the sprawling steel mills.Which was bombed weeks ago. Putin ordered his forces not to storm the stronghold, but to close it.
At the same time, Maxar Technologies released new satellite images that it said showed more than 200 graves in a town near Mariupol, leading to accusations that the Russians were trying to hide a massacre of civilians taking place in the city.
Initial estimates from Ukrainians say the graves may contain 9,000 bodies, but Andryushenko said there may be more. Ukrainian authorities said more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the nearly two-month siege of Mariupol.
The mayor’s assistant said: “The graves have been dug and the bodies are still being dumped there.”
Putin said on Friday that Russia had given Ukrainian forces inside the steel plant the option of surrender, with guarantees to keep them alive, and offered “treatment and decent medical care,” according to the account of a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, provided by the Kremlin.
“But the Kyiv regime does not allow them to seize this opportunity,” Putin said.
Ukrainian officials have said that repeated attempts to evacuate civilians from the city have been unsuccessful because Russia has not respected the ceasefire.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Verychuk said that no humanitarian corridors will be opened to evacuate civilians in Ukraine on Friday because it is too dangerous. She urged civilians to “be patient” and “stay there”.
Days after Russia’s offensive to capture the east, the campaign has yet to turn into an all-out offensive, with military analysts saying Moscow’s forces are still ramping up. But the scattered towns in the east were hit by incoming shells, sending the citizens out in panic.
The city of Sloviansk, which has a population of about 100,000 in eastern Ukraine, came under fire overnight, according to Mayor Vadim Lyach, who said no injuries were reported. But he urged residents to leave and said a convoy of buses would be organized. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russian fires in Roubzhny had prevented attempts to bring in buses.
Intense shelling was also heard during the night in Kharkiv, a northeastern city outside Donbass, but one of the gates the Russians intend to use to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbass was seen from the north, south and east.
If successful, the campaign will give Putin a vital part of the country and a much-needed victory to show the Russian people amid mounting war losses and economic hardship from Western sanctions.
But analysts say that the Russian forces have not yet made any major breakthroughs in the Donbass or achieved any significant ground. A senior US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said the Ukrainians are obstructing Russian efforts to advance south from Izyum outside Donbass.
On Friday, Rustam Minkayev, Russia’s top military official, outlined Russia’s war goals that seemed broader than what the Kremlin had stated in recent weeks. He said that Russian forces aim to take full control of not only eastern Ukraine but also the south.
He said such a move would open the way for the state of Moldova, where Russia supports the breakaway region of Transnistria. Moldova officials are watching carefully Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, said talks between the two countries had “ground off” because Moscow had not received a response from Kyiv to its latest proposals, the details of which were not disclosed.
Putin’s chief negotiator at the talks, Vladimir Medinsky, said he had several lengthy talks on Friday with the head of the Ukrainian delegation. He did not give details of what was discussed or whether any progress had been made.
The battle of Mariupol is seen as the key to the eastern offensive. Its capture would complete a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which Moscow captured in 2014, freeing Putin’s forces to take part in the larger campaign in the east.
Mariupol was the site of some of the worst suffering of the warSatellite images released on Thursday hinted at more. In the photos, long rows of mounds of dirt extend away from a cemetery found in Manush, outside Mariupol.
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin to the satellite images. When mass graves and hundreds of civilian deaths were discovered in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew three weeks ago, Russian officials denied that their soldiers had killed any civilians there and falsely accused Ukraine of atrocities..
The United Nations Human Rights Office has again condemned the Russian invasion.
“During these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not only been ignored, it appears to have been set aside,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Fish reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Mstislav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Juras Karmanau in Lviv, and Robert Burns and Amer Madani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP members around the world.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine