Workers digging through the rubble of a building in Mariupol have found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities have said, as new horrors are revealed in the crumbling city that has seen some of the worst suffering of the war of three months.
The bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the area, according to Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor.
He did not say when the bodies were discovered, but the number of casualties made it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.
Heavy fighting has continued in Donbass, the industrial region in eastern Ukraine that Moscow’s forces intend to seize.
Russian troops intensified their efforts to surround and capture Sievierodonetsk and nearby towns.
Mariupol has been pounded relentlessly during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned the Azovstal steelworks where they had taken up positions.
Russian forces were already holding the rest of the city, where around 100,000 people remain out of a pre-war population of 450,000, many of whom are trapped during the siege with little food, water, heat or electricity.
At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and burying the dead in mass graves.
During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity ward and a theater where civilians had taken refuge.
An Associated Press investigation found that nearly 600 people died in the attack on the theater, double the figure estimated by Ukrainian authorities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused the Russians of waging an “all-out war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction on his country as possible.
“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Mr Zelensky said, referring to the end of World War II.
Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbass for eight years and hold large swaths of territory.
Sievierodonetsk and neighboring towns are the only part of the Luhansk region of Donbass still under the control of the Ukrainian government.
Russian forces achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along entrenched positions, the UK Ministry of Defense said.
Troops from Moscow also took control of the city of Svitlodarsk and raised the Russian flag there, Ukrainian media reported.
Svitlodarsk lies about 50 km southeast of the strategically important city of Kramatorsk.
Two senior Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance had been slower than expected, although they had sworn the offensive would achieve its objectives.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines”.
And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russian-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow was deliberately slowing its offensive to allow residents of encircled towns to evacuate – although that the forces repeatedly hit civilian targets.
As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks upon weeks of relentless shelling, residents have formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and other foods basic this week.
Moscow’s forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, retreating towards the Russian border.
Galina Kolembed, coordinator of the aid distribution center, said more and more people were returning to the city. Ms Kolembed said the center provides food to more than 1,000 people every day, a number that is constantly growing.
“A lot of them have young children and are spending their money on the children, so they need help with food,” she said.