Russia has turned the city of Mariupol into a Nazi-type death camp, burning bodies and blocking humanitarian convoys to hide evidence of massacres and other atrocities, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko said more than 5,000 civilians, including at least 210 children, had been killed during Russian bombings and street fighting in a devastating siege in southern Ukraine. He said Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people were burned.
Mariupol city officials said in a statement published in the Telegram that Russian officials were running mobile crematoria to burn the bodies of those killed, causing the specter of the greatest crime of the twentieth century.
“The world has not seen the scale of the tragedy in Mariupol since the Nazi concentration camps,” Boychenko said in a statement. “In [Russians] turned our whole city into a death camp. “
“This is no longer Chechnya or Aleppo. This is the new Auschwitz or Maidanek, ”he said, urging the international community to act.
Ukrainian human rights activist Lyudmila Denisova also referred to the testimony of witnesses that Russian forces brought mobile crematoria and other heavy equipment to clear the rubble in the city.
A city official said people who tried to flee the city were sent to a “filtration camp,” CNN reported.
Boychenko said more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed. As a result of attacks on the strategic southern city of the Sea of Azov, food, water, fuel and medicine were cut off, and homes and businesses were destroyed.
It is estimated that there are still about 120,000 people in Mariupol, compared to the pre-war population of more than 400,000.
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Russia is blocking humanitarian access to the besieged port city because it wants to hide the evidence of “thousands” of people killed there.
“The reason why we can’t get to Mariupol with humanitarian aid is that they are afraid … that the world will see what is happening there,” Zelensky told Turkish TV channel Haberturk.
“I think it’s a tragedy, it’s hell, I know it’s not tens, but thousands of people, different people who were killed and thousands wounded,” – said Zelensky.
However, he expressed confidence that Russia will not be able to hide all the evidence.
“They will not be able to hide all this and bury all the dead and wounded Ukrainians. It’s just such a number, it’s thousands of people, it’s impossible to hide. “
Zelensky said Russia had already tried to hide evidence of crimes in the city of Bucha near Kiev and several nearby settlements, where Ukrainian officials accused Moscow of mass killings of civilians.
“They burned families. Families. Yesterday we found a new family again: a father, a mother, two children. Little ones, kids, two. One was a small hand, you know, ”Zielenski said. “That’s why I said they were Nazis.”
He said a Red Cross convoy of seven buses and at least 40 cars with hundreds of evacuees from Mariupol and other Russian-occupied areas had arrived in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye as part of the first successful international evacuation six weeks after the war.
The Red Cross has repeatedly reached Mariupol, but rescued evacuees from the Russian-controlled neighboring city of Berdyansk, where many fled Mariupol, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
“These people have really been through the worst,” ICRC spokeswoman Lucille Marbo told AFP. “We heard people say how they should have left Mariupol. There, in Mariupol, there is still no food, no water, no electricity. “
Marbo explained that residents can call their families or try to find a way out.
The ICRC reported on social media that more than 500 evacuees had been taken to Zaporizhia.
Passengers said that the road to Zaporozhye through several checkpoints took about 26 hours. They said the men were taken off buses and in many cases stripped naked when the Russian military checked them for military tattoos or marks on their skin that they thought had a gun.
Upon arrival, feeling stressed and relieved, one man fell due to an attack of alcohol, and a woman from Mariupol hugged ICRC representatives and thanked them for taking her and her family to safety.
“There is a huge intensity of feelings when people can leave a difficult situation, but also when you know they had to leave people behind,” Marbo said. “We met a 14-year-old girl who was leaving alone while her parents were left.”
“There was a very serious shelling. That’s why we were delayed, ”one of the evacuees Iryna Nikolaenka said, explaining that she was able to get out during the pause.
“The Mariupol I knew and loved no longer exists,” she said.
“I realized that I was leaving forever, that I would never return to my city and never see it again.”
On Monday, the Red Cross said a team it had sent a few days earlier to evacuate civilians from Mariupol was being held by police in Russian-controlled territory.
The organization said on Twitter on Wednesday that it had been trying for five days to reach the city, which has been under constant Russian bombing since Moscow’s invasion in late February.
“But security conditions have made it impossible,” the statement said.
“Thousands are still trapped in the city. They urgently need a safe exit and help to come, ”it added.
Late last month, Russian troops attacked a Red Cross building in the city where half a million people lived before the war, where officials warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Repeated attempts to evacuate the residents of Mariupol failed, although some of them made a dangerous leap to freedom from the city.
Asked about the continuation of peace talks with Russia, Zelensky said that “they should still happen.”
“I think it’s hard to stop this war without it,” Zelensky said.
But he added that it was difficult for him to force himself to continue negotiations with Moscow, “because we understand who we are dealing with.”