Mass graves near Mariupol are evidence of war crimes, Ukrainian officials say
From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Julia Presniakova, Katie Polglase, Jennifer Hauser, Hira Humayun and Julia Hollingsworth
Ukrainian officials say they have identified mass graves outside the city of Mariupol, which they say adds to mounting proof of Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
The claim is supported by photos collected and analyzed by US satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies that appears to show more than 200 new graves at a site on the northwestern edge of Manhush, a town around 12 miles (19 kilometers) to the west of Mariupol.
An estimated 100,000 people remain trapped in Mariupol which has been under constant bombardment since it was surrounded by Russian forces on March 1, according to Ukrainian officials. Ukrainian officials claim that more than 20,000 people in the city have died during the assault.
In a post Thursday on messaging app Telegram, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said Russian trucks had collected bodies from the port city, before "dumping them" in Manhush.
"This is direct evidence of war crimes and attempts to cover them up," he said.
CNN cannot independently verify claims Russians have disposed of bodies in mass graves at that location. A firm death toll following weeks of heavy bombardment of Mariupol is not available.
However, journalists in Mariupol have documented the hasty burial of civilians in the besieged city, and images have surfaced on social media showing bodies apparently left for collection in the city.
Russian troops use rape as "an instrument of war" in Ukraine, rights groups allege
From CNN's Tara John, Oleksandra Ochman and Sandi Sidhu
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine and began closing in on its capital, Kyiv, Andrii Dereko begged his 22-year-old stepdaughter Karina Yershova to leave the suburb where she lived.
But Yershova insisted she wanted to remain in Bucha, telling him: "Don't talk nonsense, everything will be fine — there will be no war," he said.
With her tattoos and long brown hair, Yershova stood out in a crowd, her stepfather said.
As Russian soldiers surrounded Bucha in early March, Yershova hid in an apartment with two other friends. When weeks went by without a word from Yershova, the family became desperate for news.
Her mother was told by friends that images of a dead woman with similar tattoos to Yershova’s – which included a rose on her forearm – had been posted on a Telegram group set up by a detective in Bucha who was trying to identify hundreds of bodies found in the town after Russian troops withdrew from the area two weeks ago.
Dereko says the images, seen by CNN, show his stepdaughter’s mutilated body. Police told the family she had been killed by Russian soldiers.
“They mutilated her. They shot her in the leg, and then gave her a tourniquet to stop her bleeding. And then they shot her in the temple.” It looked like she was tortured or put up a fight, he said.
Dereko also believes Yershova was sexually abused by Russian troops. “The [police] investigator hinted” that she had been raped, he said.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the effort to capture Mariupol from Ukraine a "success" and ordered his forces to halt outside the city's besieged Azovstal steel factory, US President Joe Biden said Thursday it was “questionable” whether the city had fallen. Meanwhile, an estimated tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol remain trapped by air and ground attacks with little opportunity to evacuate safely, and satellite images point to evidence of mass graves outside the city.
Here are the latest developments on Russia's war in Ukraine:
Siege of Mariupol a "terrorist operation," Zelensky says: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that "thousands" of civilians remain blockaded inside Mariupol as he likened the Russian siege to a "terrorist operation." Ukrainian officials on Tuesday also identified the location of apparent mass graves outside the city, claims bolstered by the publication of satellite images collected and analyzed by Maxar Technologies.
Mariupol evacuations are moving slowly, deputy PM says: The evacuation of civilians is going “very slowly," according to Ukraine's deputy prime minister, amid intense attacks from Russian forces. "On the Russian side, everything is very complicated, chaotic, slow and, of course, dishonest,” Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram. Ukrainian commanders on the ground have said Russian forces have not honored agreements to open evacuation corridors or enforce ceasefires.
Ukraine alleges Russian orders were given to kill POWs: Ukraine’s military intelligence on Wednesday released a purported communications intercept of Russian armed forces referring to an alleged order to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war in the city of Popasna in the eastern region of Luhansk, which is bearing the brunt of Russia’s renewed attack. It appears to feature Russian soldiers saying: “Keep the most senior among them, and let the rest go forever. Let them go forever, damn it, so that no one will ever see them again, including relatives.”
Neighboring nations say Russia committed genocide: The Estonian and Latvian parliaments adopted statements on Thursday saying Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine, citing mass graves and atrocities discovered in areas since vacated by Russian forces.
Annexations will cripple Russia, Zelensky says: Zelensky warned Russia on Thursday that any attempts at annexation — similar to Crimea or the so-called breakaway republics in the nation's east — will lead to sanctions that will leave Russia as poor as it was after its civil war in 1917. “I want to say straight away: any ‘Kherson People's Republics’ are not going to fly," he said.
US sends more aid to Ukraine: Saying there was a "critical window" as Russian forces build up in the east of Ukraine, Biden announced an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine. The new package would include heavy artillery and drones, he said Thursday, along with ammunition.
11:56 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Estonian and Latvian parliaments say Russia has committed genocide
From CNN's Jennifer Hauser
The Estonian and Latvian parliaments adopted statements on Thursday saying Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine.
In its statement, Estonia said "systematic and massive war crimes have been committed against the Ukrainian nation by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation," according to its parliament, the Riigikogu.
It cited the towns of Bucha, Borodianka, Hostomel, Irpin and Mariupol as well as other settlements that were occupied by Russian forces.
"The Russian Federation has committed acts of genocide, inter alia mass atrocities against the civilian population. These have consisted of murders, enforced disappearances, deportations, imprisonment, torture, rape, and desecration of corpses,” the statement said.
Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, unanimously adopted the statement, saying it was based on "extensive testimonies and evidence of brutal mass atrocities — the murders, torture, sexual violence and desecration of Ukrainian civilians, including women and children."
"As a member state of the UN, the Council of Europe, the EU, and NATO and a defender of democratic values, Latvia cannot accept the actions of the Russian Federation, carrying out mass destruction of Ukrainian people," it said in a press release.
What is genocide: The UN defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." Genocideis when crimes against humanity are carried out with the goal of eliminating a population.
Zelensky: Any new Russian annexation will lead to sanctions that will make Russia as poor as it was in 1917
From CNN's Hira Humayun
In his nightly address on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russia that any attempts at annexation will lead to sanctions that will leave it as poor as it was after its civil war in 1917.
“I want to say straight away: any ‘Kherson People's Republics’ are not going to fly. If someone wants a new annexation, it can only lead to new powerful sanctions strikes on Russia. You will make your country as poor as Russia hasn’t been since the 1917 civil war. So it is better to seek peace now,” Zelensky said.
He urged the residents of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be very careful about the information they provide to Russian troops.
“If they ask you to fill out some questionnaires, leave your passport data somewhere, you should know - this is not to help you … This is aimed to falsify the so-called referendum on your land, if an order comes from Moscow to stage such a show,” he said.
Zelensky thanked the prime ministers of Spain and Denmark for their support as they arrived in Kyiv and thanked the Danish prime minister for showing readiness to support post-war reconstruction in Ukraine, particularly in Mykolaiv.
The Ukrainian president also thanked the US for additional support, saying, “The United States has announced a new package of support for our state. We are grateful for that. This package contains very powerful defense tools for our military. In particular, it is artillery, shells, drones. This is what we expected.”
Earlier on Thursday, Zelensky addressed the Parliament of Portugal and said as of Thursday, Russian forces have killed at least 1,126 Ukrainians in the Kyiv region alone, of which 40 are children. He also said Russian forces have already “deported” at least 500,000 Ukrainians from the territory they have occupied.
2:51 a.m. ET, April 22, 2022
US Vice President Kamala Harris and Mark Zuckerberg among latest banned from entering Russia in sanctions
From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova
Russia on Thursday expanded its “stop list” banning a further 29 American officials and figures from entering Russia on an indefinite basis, including US Vice President Kamala Harris and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the list was published “in response to the ever-expanding anti-Russian sanctions” and includes US individuals of “the top leaders, businessmen, experts and journalists who form the Russophobic agenda.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, ABC TV host George Stephanopoulos, and Bank of America head Brian Moynihan have also been added to the list.
“In the near future, a new announcement will follow about the next replenishment of the Russian ‘stop list," the statement said.
11:56 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Ukraine's military release apparent Russian communications intercept with alleged order to kill Ukrainian POWs
From CNN's Jorge Engels
Ukraine’s military intelligence on Wednesday released a purported communications intercept of Russian armed forces referring to an alleged order to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war in the city of Popasna in the eastern region of Luhansk, which is bearing the brunt of Russia’s renewed attack.
“The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine received an audio interception of the occupiers' conversation, which refers to the order to kill all prisoners of war of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are in their captivity in the area of Popasna (Luhansk Region),” Ukrainian military intelligence tweeted on Wednesday.
“This is a blatant war crime, a violation of international law, and another striking example that the Russian military are murderers, rapists, and looters,” it added.
The alleged intercepted audio recording released Wednesday appears to feature the voices of unknown Russian soldiers saying: “What can I tell you, damn it, [expletive], [unintelligible] – you keep the most senior among them, and let the rest go forever. Let them go forever, damn it, so that no one will ever see them again, including relatives.”
CNN cannot vouch for the authenticity of the recording and has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has previously released a purported communications intercept of a Russian ground unit commander, who said Russian aircraft were planning to "level everything to the ground" around Azovstal, the steel factory that is a redoubt of Ukrainian defenders in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
On Thursday, in a meeting with his defense minister, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is no need to storm the plant, but it should be surrounded, and those inside should be offered a chance to surrender.
"Block off this industrial area so a fly cannot get through,” he said.
The SBU also previously released audio from purported intercepted radio traffic revealing Russian soldiers discussing killing and raping civilians, bolstering allegations of war crimes by Russian troops.
Germany’s foreign intelligence service has also intercepted alleged radio communications where Russian soldiers talked about shooting soldiers and civilians in Ukraine. Military observers have also noted a tendency of Russian troops to use unsecured communications in Ukraine.
Speaking from an undisclosed location to CNN on Wednesday, Serhii Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 80% of his region's territory is under Russian control, and if Ukraine doesn’t resist, “Russia is certainly not going to stop here and will push further on.”
“Certainly they [Russians] are spreading out a lot," he said. "We’ve established our defenses in a lot of towns. They’re trying to encircle our troops, a lot of nasty business is going on there…but they haven’t had any successes so far. We are doing well to destroy their equipment."
Haidai went on to say that “We have a very serious situation here. The whole of Luhansk territory is being shelled. There is no safe town… We understand that the Russian government is going to push ahead and going to destroy everything in its path. So what we are doing is trying to evacuate everyone as much as possible.”
11:56 p.m. ET, April 21, 2022
Ukrainian officials and satellite images point to evidence of mass graves outside of Mariupol
From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Julia Presniakova and Katie Polglase
A satellite image shows an alleged mass grave in the village of Manhush, outside the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on April 3. (2022 Maxar Technologies)
Ukrainian officials on Tuesday identified the location of apparent mass graves outside the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol — claims bolstered by the publication of satellite images collected and analyzed by Maxar Technologies.
In a post Thursday on Telegram, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote: "As a result of a long search and identification of places of mass burial of dead Mariupol residents, we established the fact of arrangement and mass burial of the dead Mariupol residents in the village of Manhush."
Andriushchenko — who is not in Mariupol but has served as a clearinghouse for information from inside the besieged city — posted the coordinates on Telegram, saying Russian forces had dug several mass graves, each measuring about 30 meters (around 100 feet), in Manhush, a town around 12 miles (about 19 kilometers) to the west of Mariupol.
"Trucks carry in the bodies of the dead, in fact, simply dumping them on the embankment," he said. "This is direct evidence of war crimes and attempts to cover them up."
Maxar published analysis of satellite imagery Tuesday appearing to show evidence of new graves at a site on the northwestern edge of Manhush.
"According to recent media reports, Russian soldiers have been taking the bodies of people killed in Mariupol to this location," Maxar said in its analysis. "A review of our satellite images from mid-March through mid-April indicate that the expansion of the new set of graves began between March 23-26, 2022 and has continued to expand over the past couple of weeks. The graves are aligned in four sections of linear rows (measuring approximately 85 meters per section) and contain more than 200 new graves."
Vadym Boichenko, the mayor of Mariupol, also alleged Thursday that Russian forces have buried bodies in mass graves in Manhush, amid claims by Ukrainian officials that as many as 20,000 people have died in weeks of bombardment.
"More than 20,000 civilians — women, children, elderly people — died on the streets of our city from enemy artillery, aircraft," he said. "And this is also [based] on the evidence of the heads of our municipal services, who saw it. And unfortunately, we have seen that the bodies of dead Mariupol residents have begun to disappear from the streets of our city."
Boichenko said the mass graves were off a bypass road, near a cemetery.
"And there is a field near the cemetery, and in this field there are ditches, 30 meters (about 90 feet) long, and there they bury them, bring the bodies of the dead by trucks and throw them into these ditches," he said.
CNN cannot independently verify claims that Russians have disposed of bodies in mass graves at that location, and a firm death toll following weeks of heavy bombardment of Mariupol is not available. Journalists in Mariupol have documented the hasty burial of civilians in the besieged city, and images have surfaced on social media showing bodies apparently left for collection in the city.
Evidence of mass graves outside Mariupol surfaced as Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the "liberation" of the city by Russian forces, although he also called off an attempt to storm the Azovstal steel plant, the final bastion of Ukrainian defenders inside the city, where civilians have also sheltered.
"Unfortunately, it is not possible today to evacuate civilians from Azovstal," Boichenko said. "Because we are asking for a stable ceasefire. Somewhere we need one day to be able to accommodate those residents who have been hiding there for 57 days in a row, and they are being bombed, bombed and bombed."
Boichenko estimated that around 100,000 people remain in Mariupol.