HRW report: At least 8 000 people died in Mariupol in a year of war

Sofiia Telishevska

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch has published new data on the destruction of Mariupol.

The report is based on 240 interviews with mostly displaced persons from Mariupol conducted by HRW and the Ukrainian human rights organization Truth Hounds, as well as on the analysis of more than 850 photos and videos, documents and dozens of satellite images taken by HRW and SITU Research.

The analysis showed that between March 2022 and February 2023, more than 10,000 people were buried in Mariupol. Comparing the increase in burials to the cityʼs usual death rate, researchers estimate that at least 8,000 people died directly from fighting or war-related causes.

HRW notes that the total number of dead could be much higher, as some graves contained multiple bodies and the remains of others were most likely buried under the rubble. People were also buried in improvised graves, which are quite difficult to identify.

"We and our partners spent almost two years to reveal the truth about the terrible crimes committed by Russian forces in Mariupol. This investigation is aimed at ensuring that these crimes are never forgotten and that the guilty are brought to justice," said Roman Avramenko, executive director of Truth Hounds.

The researchers documented in detail 14 attacks that damaged or destroyed 18 buildings and killed and injured civilians. Among them were shelling of two hospitals, the city drama theater that provided shelter to the civilian population, a food warehouse, an aid distribution point, a supermarket, and residential buildings that served as shelters for civilians. Human Rights Watch and Truth Hounds found no evidence of Ukrainian military presence at or near these shelling sites, or only a small military presence, making these shellings clearly illegal.

The report identified 17 units of Russian and Russian-affiliated forces that operated in Mariupol in March and April 2022, at the height of hostilities. Analysts also concluded that the following 10 people may be responsible for war crimes in Mariupol:

  • Putin;
  • Serhiy Shoigu — Minister of Defense;
  • Valery Gerasimov — Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces;
  • Serhii Rudskoy — first deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, head of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces
  • Oleksandr Dvornikov — then commander of the Southern Military District;
  • Viktor Zolotov — Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard of the Russian Federation;
  • Andriy Mordvichev — commander of the 8th combined arms army;
  • Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic and the forces of the National Guard of Chechnya;
  • Adam Delimkhanov, commander of Chechen troops in Mariupol during the storming of the city;
  • Denys Pushylin, head of the so-called Donetsk Peopleʼs Republic and commander-in-chief of the armed formations formed under the "DPR" at the time of the assault on Mariupol.

"The devastation of Mariupol by Russian troops is one of the worst aspects of their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. International bodies and governments committed to the cause of justice should focus on investigating the actions of high-ranking Russian officials who appear to be connected to the oversight of war crimes in this once-bustling city," said Ida Sawyer, director of crises and conflicts at HRW.

HRW also notes that since the occupation of the city, the Russian authorities have been building new high-rise residential buildings as part of the announced plan for the reconstruction and redevelopment of Mariupol — the occupying authorities must clear the rubble and demolish dangerous structures. However, in the absence of independent investigators, the Russian government destroys physical evidence at hundreds of potential crime scenes.

The occupying forces are also destroying markers of Ukrainian identity, in particular by introducing a Russian school curriculum and renaming streets, the organization adds.

  • Russian troops surrounded Mariupol in the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. Since the beginning of March, it has been under blockade, since the second half of May, the city has been under full occupation. Before the full-scale invasion, 530,000 people lived in Mariupol.