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The bodies of 200 residents of Mariupol have been discovered in the basement of a building destroyed by Russian bombing, Ukrainian authorities announced on Tuesday.
Mariupol mayor’s adviser Petro Andriushchenko said the bodies were found in “an advanced state of decomposition” after being left under the rubble of the building for an indefinite period.
Russian forces hit the town in one of the most brutal assaults in Ukraine since the war began in February.
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Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boichenko claimed last month that Russian troops had killed more than 20,000 residents since the start of its invasion, although those figures have not been verified.
Andriushchenko said the stench of the bodies permeated an entire city block.
Residents of the town of Mariupol reportedly refused to collect the bodies after Russian-backed forces put in place a series of measures residents had to follow to qualify for a “free burial”.
A state-owned Donetsk company (CADLR), known as Ritual, has been tasked with exhumations and burials in the war-torn city, Ukrainian media Pravda reported.
But Russian-backed separatists have demanded that Mariupol residents either line up with the body of the deceased at a designated morgue and claim it has just been ‘discovered’, or record a video of the body and claim it was killed by Ukrainian forces.
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According to Mariupol city officials, residents refused to comply with Russian demands and left the dead to Russian troops.
Andriushchenko said the bodies were now placed in bags in what became a makeshift morgue on the street.
“The city [has] turned into a continuous cemetery,” he said.
The majority of Ukrainians fled the port city with around 100,000 remaining.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia will face another humanitarian crisis if it does not find a way to bring clean water to those who remain in the city.
Lack of water, food, electricity and medical accessibility has plagued Mariupol for weeks amid Russia’s near complete destruction of the city.
But Biochenko warned last week that Mariupol now faces an epidemiological challenge and a growing threat from infectious diseases.
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“The city is on the edge of summer. And summer time requires more water,” he said. “The fact that today the drainage is not working in Mariupol. The sewers are not working.”
It is unclear what Moscow’s plans are for the beleaguered city now that it has fallen to Russian forces.