Stench of 200 Decomposing Bodies Led Workers to Mariupol Basement

·3 min read
Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

As workers sifted through what little was left of a bombed-out apartment block in the city of Mariupol, they were overcome by the unmistakable stench of decomposing bodies, by now all too common in war-torn parts of Ukraine. But Petro Adryushchenko, an attache in the mayor’s office, said they weren’t prepared for the discovery of 200 corpses of people of all ages in the basement of the collapsed building.

It is unclear how many were killed when the building came down during the beginning of the three-month-old war, or if they died of starvation or from injuries as they tried to seek shelter. There were no survivors, he said. Just piles of bodies.

“The city has turned into a continuous cemetery,” Adryushchenko wrote in an online post, adding that a makeshift morgue had been set up to process the recently discovered remains.

The strategic port city was an early and constant focus of Russian aggression that ended a week ago—after 2,500 Ukrainian fighters gave up their fight to hold the Azovstal Steel Works factory and reluctantly turned themselves over to Russian troops. Russia controls the port city now, but uses Ukrainian civilians to carry out cleanup efforts from their brutal bombardment.

Prior to the war, some 450,000 people lived in the pretty port town. Now around 100,000 remain, according to Ukrainian foreign ministry estimates. Many of those are living in unhygenic conditions with limited food and clean water. Most have no plumbing, heat, or electricity.

Ukraine authorities say at least 21,000 people have died in Mariupol alone. Some were killed in a strike of a maternity ward, and at least 600 are estimated to have died when Russia bombed a theater clearly marked as a shelter for children. Russian troops stand accused of cremating many of the corpses, likely to hide evidence of war crimes. Other victims have been buried in gardens, parks, and ditches in graves marked with wooden crosses.

Russian forces, which have encountered heavy losses across the country, are focusing much of their might now on the Luhansk region of Donbas, which is one of the few areas in the east of the country still under Ukrainian control. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of waging a “total war” to “inflict as much death and destruction as possible,” during his regular address Tuesday evening. “Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said. “Practically the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown at the offensive there.”

Meanwhile, hope glimmers as liberated cities like Kharkiv come back to life. The Associated Press reports that residents in Ukraine’s second largest city are returning home, many waiting in lines without fear of being bombed to collect rations of staples like flour and sugar.

Negotiations between the two nations have largely stalled with Zelensky telling a breakfast meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davis that he would only speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he comes back to the current world.

“Once the president is prepared to leave his bubble of this alternative reality into the real world and talk to us, understand that a lot of people are being killed, including civilians, perhaps then will he understand that we should start talking and should put the end to this war that he launched, his country is waging against us,” Zelensky said Wednesday morning, adding he would like to meet Putin face-to-face “with no intermediaries, no brokers.”

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