Analysis of satellite photos and social media sites has revealed a large increase in the number of graves in areas of Ukraine occupied by the Russian military, according to a report released today by an NGO.
The Center for Information Resilience (CIR), an anti-disinformation organization, analyzed data on six regions of Ukraine that were or are still in the hands of Russian forces.
“Open source information can provide unprecedented access behind the front lines and into zones held by Russian forces,” said Benjamin Strick, director of research at CIR.
At the Starokrimske cemetery in Mariupol (southeast), for example, the study’s authors estimate that 1,000 new graves were dug over a five-month period, from October 21, 2021, to March 28, 2022 — a month after the war began.
The rate of burials then increased rapidly, with 1,141 new graves visible from satellites from March 28 to May 12 and another 1,700 from May 12 to June 29, according to the NGO.
“Our report reflects the extreme pressure that continues to be exerted on political life in Ukraine,” according to Mr. Strik, for whom “the makeshift graves and the growing number of memorials, especially around the occupied zones, reflect with shocking way the number of dead civilians”.
To arrive at these numbers, the authors of the study cross-referenced satellite images with geo-located photos, mostly posted on social networking sites.
The photos also reveal large trenches at two locations near Mariupol, Pionerske and Mangush, as well as hastily dug graves around the city.
Kyiv estimates that 22,000 civilians were killed in Mariupol, where the heaviest fighting of the war took place so far.
In Kherson, a southern city also occupied by Russia’s armed forces, the CIR estimates that 824 mass graves have been dug since the start of the war until early April.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that 5,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, but acknowledges that the actual death toll is much higher.