New satellite images show a mass grave in the Russian-occupied village of Manhush, located about 12 miles west of Mariupol, a discovery that Ukrainian officials say is evidence of war crimes against civilians in the strategic port city.
The images, provided Thursday to The Washington Post by Maxar Technologies, show several rows of graves in four distinct sections, each measuring nearly 280 feet. The company’s review of the images indicates the new graves appeared between March 23 and March 26 and that there are now more than 200 burial plots alongside an existing cemetery.
The Mariupol City Council said in a statement on Telegram that officials believe up to 9,000 civilians could be buried in the mass grave, where authorities said Russians forces “dug new trenches and filled them with corpses every day throughout April.” The council added that it has information indicating the bodies were “buried in several layers.” There was no immediate independent verification available of those claims.
Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a major focal point for Russian troops hoping to secure a land route to Russia-annexed Crimea. Ukrainian officials believe that at least 20,000 people have been killed in Mariupol since the start of the invasion — and said that the new mass grave appears to be significantly larger than those discovered in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where civilians were found strewn on streets after Russian troops retreated.
The discovery brought immediate condemnation from Ukrainian officials and once again underscored the mounting, often hidden, toll of the war. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko called the site the “new Babyn Yar,” referring to one the largest mass graves in Europe located in the outskirts of Kyiv, where 33,000 Jews where killed by Nazis in 1941 during World War II.
“The biggest war crime of the 21st century was committed in Mariupol. This is the new Babyn Yar. Then, Hitler killed Jews, Roma and Slavs. Now, Putin is destroying Ukrainians,” Boichenko said in the city council’s statement. “We need to do everything we can to stop the genocide.”
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Boichenko, wrote on his Facebook page that the photos reflect “the whole scope of the tragedy of Mariupol, the inhumanity of the Russians,” and amount to “direct evidence of war crimes and attempts to cover them up.”
There were no immediate comments by Russian officials in response to the discovery.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in the devastated city — even as his advisers acknowledged that thousands of Ukrainian fighters remain holed up in a steel plant there, alongside hundreds of civilians. The last defenders of Mariupol have repeatedly stated in recent days that they will not surrender their weapons, and have vowed to fight until the end — but Ukrainian officials have acknowledged they control only a small part of the city.
Boichenko, the mayor, told The Guardian Thursday that Russian trucks had collected corpses from the streets of the port city and transported them to Manhush, in order to hide evidence of what he called “barbaric war crimes.”
“The invaders are concealing evidence of their crimes,” he said. “The cemetery is located near a petrol station to the left side of a circular road. The Russians have dug huge trenches, 30 meters wide. They chuck people in.”
The discovery of the Manhush mass grave comes as investigators throughout Ukraine begin the painstaking work of identifying those killed and documenting potential war crimes. Mass graves have been found in numerous cities after Russian forces withdrew from Kyiv towns; Washington Post reporters have documented cases of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, torture and summary executions in Bordyanka, Vorzel, Moshchun and Makariv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the destruction in Mariupol is likely at a significantly larger scale as intense shelling leveled buildings and left trapped civilians without basic necessities like food and water. Efforts to evacuate the roughly 120,000 people still there have repeatedly failed — though Ukrainian officials said Thursday that several dozen managed to escape in a convoy of buses and private vehicles.
In a speech Thursday, Zelenskyy accused Russians of working to cover up atrocities as they solidify their grip on the city. He claimed Russian troops have used a mobile crematorium to destroy bodies, making it impossible to know how many have died. He did not offer further details and the claim could not be independently verified.
According to the city council, public authorities had buried about 5,000 people throughout the battered city of Mariupol by mid-March.
“The occupiers drew conclusions from how the world reacted to the massacre in Bucha,” Zelenskyy said. “And now the Russians are trying to hide the traces of war crimes.”
Andryushchenko, the Mariupol mayor’s adviser, accused Russian troops of dumping bodies in plastic bags down an embankment seen in the new satellite images. He said that the total length of the added plot was around 1,000 feet — making it many times longer than a 45-foot Bucha mass grave where 70 people were found.
“Rage,” he wrote on Telegram. “Nothing but rage.”