UN says Russian forces in Mariupol have killed ‘thousands’ of civilians, investigations remain ongoing

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Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed by Russian forces in Mariupol since the war began but the “true scale” of atrocities has yet to be fully uncovered, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner warned Thursday.

“I am shocked at the scale of the destruction, and the numerous violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that have reportedly been committed in the city,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in reference to the southern Ukrainian port city during a special session. 

“We estimate the civilian death toll in Mariupol to lie in the thousands, while only with time will the true scale of atrocities, casualties and damage become clear,” she added. 

FILE PHOTO: A view shows graves of civilians killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 19, 2022. 
(REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo)

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Mariupol’s mayor alleged in mid-April that an estimated 21,000 civilians had been killed in the port city amid Russia’s invasion.  But the UN has not been able to validate these figures. 

On Thursday the UN reported that there has been at 7,326 civilian casualties with 3,541 killed and 3,785 injured across Ukraine. 

But the top intergovernmental body has repeatedly warned these figures are likely significantly higher. 

Bachelet said the “vast majority” of civilian causalities have been caused by Russia’s insistent use of explosive weapons like heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes.

“While such incidents can be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appear attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups,” she added.

A family mourns a relative killed during the war with Russia, as dozens of black bags containing more bodies of victims are seen strewn across the graveyard in the cemetery in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday.
(AP/Rodrigo Abd)

The UN is coordinating with several investigatory groups on allegations of human rights abuses throughout the entire country. 

The high commissioner also said that over 1,000 civilian bodies were recovered from areas around Kyiv alone.

These victims were found to have died from “hostilities” in the area while others were “summarily executed” when leaving shelters for food and water.

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An incident has been confirmed in a village in the northern Chernihiv region where 360 residents, including 74 children were forced by Russian soldiers to remain in a school basement for 28 days.

“The basement was extremely overcrowded. People had to sit for days without an opportunity to lie down,” she said, noting they did not have access to water, toilet facilities or ventilation.

Ten “older people” died from the incident. 

Bachelet said she is concerned by the increasing number of reports of sexual violence from previously occupied areas around Kyiv along with other regions across the war-torn nation.

“Women and girls are the most frequently cited victims. However, reports of men and boys being affected are starting to emerge,” the high commissioner said.

Nadiya Trubchaninova, 70, sits next to a plastic bag that contains the body of her son Vadym Trubchaninov, 48, who was killed by Russian soldiers in Bucha on March 30, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Forced disappearances have also been confirmed by the Human Rights High Commissioner and reports of mostly men, but some women and at least one boy, have been documented.

Former servicemen, public officials, activists and journalists are among those who have been forcibly deported to Russia or Belarus where they have been held in “pre-trial detention centers.”

At least five of the 204 confirmed cases of those deported have been found dead, while another 38 individuals were returned home.

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“The real number of enforced disappearances is again likely higher,” Bachelet said.

The commissioner noted there have been ten cases of possible enforced disappearances by Ukrainian law enforcement officials. Seven of the pro-Russian victims have been released. 

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