The southern port of Mariupol has become a potent emblem of the human toll of the war in Ukraine, a besieged city where trapped residents went for weeks without electricity or water, and where people dug trenches to accommodate the mounting numbers of bodies.
On Thursday, the top United Nations human rights official said that Mariupol likely was the “deadliest place in Ukraine” in the first three months of Russia’s invasion. Thousands of civilians are believed to have died there, she said.
The official, Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights, issuing an updated assessment on Mariupol, also said that up to 350,000 residents had fled during Russia’s ultimately successful siege and occupation of the city, and that up to 90 percent of its residential buildings had been either damaged or destroyed. Mariupol was once home to more than 400,000 people.
The Russian assault on Mariupol came to symbolize the horrors of the war in Ukraine early in the Feb. 24 invasion, punctuated by strikes on a hospital maternity ward and the collapse of a bombed theater where civilians had sought shelter.
“The intensity and extent of hostilities, destruction and death and injury strongly suggest that serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of international human rights law have occurred,” Ms. Bachelet said in the assessment.
So far, Ms. Bachelet said, teams of U.N. investigators have verified 1,348 civilian deaths attributable directly to hostilities in Mariupol, including 70 children. “These deaths were caused by airstrikes, tank and artillery shelling, and small arms and light weapons during street fighting,” she said, adding that the actual civilian death toll was “likely thousands higher.”
While investigators have been unable to physically inspect Russian-occupied Mariupol because of security concerns, she said, they have been “speaking directly with people who left the city; communicating remotely with people who remained in the city; collecting and analyzing publicly available information; and by using satellite imagery.”
Bodies have been found in “improvised individual or collective graves in yards, streets and parks, in unattended houses and apartments,” she said. “Many are still to be buried.”