Ukrainian officials say a mass grave site in a village outside the besieged southern city of Mariupol could contain as many as 9,000 bodies.
The site was identified by satellite imagery captured by the earth observation company Maxar and released on Thursday. The company said the images show a mass grave site on the northwestern edge of the village of Manhush, about 12 miles west of Mariupol, and adjacent to an existing cemetery.
In a statement, Maxar, a U.S. government contractor, said the images, taken from mid-March through mid-April, show that more than 200 new graves began to appear toward the end of March and expanded in April. The company said the images showed the graves aligned in four sections of linear rows, each about 280 feet long. The images come as investigators in Ukraine and abroad are working to collect evidence that back up allegations that Russia has perpetrated war crimes during its invasion of the country. And though there is skepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin will face consequences for his troops’ actions, experts have stressed it is important that possible war crimes be brought to the world’s attention.
In a statement on its Telegram channel, the Mariupol City Council said the satellite images published by Maxar showed a mass grave site that was 20 times larger than a burial site discovered this month in the city of Bucha, outside Kyiv. NBC News could not verify that claim.
Seventy bodies were found in that grave, the council said. The city officials said the site in the village of Manhush could hold 3,000 to 9,000 bodies, possibly of Mariupol residents.
The City Council said the bodies may have been buried in layers, adding that the Russians dug trenches and filled them with corpses every day throughout April.
NBC News could not immediately confirm the City Council’s allegations or the Maxar report.
NBC News also could not verify who was buried in the apparent mass grave, or whether it held the bodies of civilians from Mariupol, or soldiers from either side.
Earlier Thursday, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said city officials had information about a mass grave site in Manhush and that the Russians were moving bodies there by trucks and dumping them there to “hide their war crimes.” Boychenko said city officials have been told by Mariupol residents that bodies of civilians were “disappearing” from the city streets as intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces continues.
His adviser, Piotr Andryushchenko, posted the coordinates of what he said was a new mass grave in Manhush in his Telegram channel. These coordinates show the location captured by Maxar imagery that was released later on Thursday.
Echoing Boychenko’s words, Andryushchenko said in a separate Telegram post that trucks transport the bodies of the dead to the site, “just dumping them in bulk.” He called it “direct evidence of war crimes and attempts to cover them up.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin to the new satellite imagery that emerged from Maxar.
Russia has consistently denied targeting Ukrainian civilians.
When mass graves and hundreds of dead civilians were discovered in the town of Bucha and other towns in the vicinity of Kyiv after Russian troops retreated in late March, Russian officials accused Ukraine of staging the atrocities and denied any responsibility.
Ukraine had previously accused Russia of committing war crimes in Bucha and in other towns.
Mariupol has become the scene of some of the war’s worst destruction and suffering for civilians, resulting in what Ukrainian officials and aid organizations have called a humanitarian catastrophe.
More than 20,000 people have been killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, although an exact death toll is hard to establish.
Ukrainian officials say more than 100,000 people are believed to still be trapped in the city with little or no food, water, heat or medicine. Russia claimed control over Mariupol on Thursday. The city, which had a pre-war population of about 450,000, has been reduced to a smoking ruin after nearly two lethal months of bombardment.