Officials in Mariupol Struggle to Account for the Dead

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LVIV, Ukraine — With some residents crushed in the rubble from a relentless two-week onslaught by Russian forces, and others dying in freezing conditions with no heat, food or clean water, officials in the besieged coastal city of Mariupol are struggling to account for the number of dead and missing.

Officially, 2,400 civilians killed in the city have been identified, but Pyotr Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city government, said he believed the toll was far higher.

“We have inaccurate data on civilians killed,” he said in an interview with Current Time, a Ukrainian radio station. He said the official figure represented a “small handful” of those killed and estimated that the actual total could be as high as 20,000.

In a telephone interview with The New York Times later, Mr. Andryushchenko said that 2,000 vehicles had managed to escape the city on Tuesday and that another 2,000 were packed and ready to leave. Officials told civilians hoping to leave to “delete all messengers and photos from phones” in case Russian soldiers tried to search them for signs of support for Ukrainian forces.

A battleground since the first hours of the war, Mariupol is under an increasingly relentless assault that is taking an unspeakable toll. Ukrainian estimates for the number of civilians trapped in the city have ranged from 200,000 to 400,000, with the latest estimate being 300,000.

The region’s top official, Pavlo Kyrylenko, who until martial law was declared was its governor, announced that the Russians were also holding doctors and patients of the main intensive care hospital hostage. An estimated 400 people are inside.

“It is impossible to get out of the hospital,” Mr. Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram, quoting a message from one of the facility’s employees. “They shoot hard, we sit in the basement. Cars have not been able to drive to the hospital for two days. High-rise buildings are burning around.”

Battered by Russian shelling, the city has been overwhelmed by the wounded and dead. Videos shared on Telegram showed residents of the Cheryomushki neighborhood burying a body in a courtyard. Another video showed how local people had turned a post office building into a makeshift morgue, with “MORGUE” spray-painted in large Cyrillic letters on the outside of the ground floor of the building.

“Here, in this building of the New Post Office on Cheryomushki, they stack corpses, which in the future they themselves will bury,” a man can be heard saying in the video, which he posted to the Telegram channel Mariupol Now.

Russian forces have dropped more than 100 bombs within the city limits, according to a Telegram post by the Mariupol city council, destroying nearly all basic services, even as they battle Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of the metropolis.

The Kremlin has said that it is Ukrainian forces that are keeping people trapped in the city. The Ukrainian government says that repeated attempts at mass evacuation have failed as they came under attack by Russian forces.

There is no completely safe route in or out of the city. The roads are studded with land mines, according to international observers, and the fighting rarely subsides.

The Ukrainian Army’s high command said on Tuesday that its forces had managed to repel the latest Russian attempt to move into the city, claiming to have destroyed two tanks, seven infantry fighting vehicles and one armored personnel carrier. “After the losses, the occupiers stopped the offensive and retreated,” the Ukrainian military said.

The Ukrainians noted that their forces had also suffered losses. It is impossible to independently verify almost any information out of Mariupol, as nearly all lines of communication have been severed.

Mr. Andryushchenko, the adviser to the city government, declined to comment in his phone interview with The Times on whether he and the mayor would be evacuating from the city. The mayor’s security would likely be of concern: Russian forces kidnapped the mayor of nearby Melitopol and installed a replacement.

“We sincerely hope for the safety of our mayor and that our defenders will help ensure it,” Mr. Andryushchenko said. “We know for sure that he will not accept the Russian occupation under any circumstances, will not cooperate with the occupiers and will not recognize any occupation authority.”

But he was also at a loss for words thinking about the city’s future. He has estimated that 80 percent of the residential housing stock has been destroyed. “What kind of city can it be?”

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