Ukraine's Zelensky accuses Russian troops of mass civilian killings, coverup in Mariupol

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said new evidence is emerging that shows Russian troops killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol and then tried to cover it up.

Satellite images show what appear to be mass graves to the city's east and west

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said new evidence is emerging that shows Russian troops killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol and then tried to cover it up.

He said Ukraine has intercepted Russian conversations about "how they are concealing the traces of their crimes."

Satellite images have shown what appear to be mass graves dug in towns to the west and east of Mariupol.

Zelensky also said the Russians set up "filtration camps" near Mariupol for those trying to leave the city, which has largely been reduced to rubble.

He said those who survive these camps are sent to areas under Russian occupation or to Russia itself, often as far as Siberia or the Far East. Many of them, he said, are children.

These before-and-after satellite images show an overview of a cemetery and expansion of new graves near Vynohradne, approximately 12 kilometers east of Mariupol on March 22 and April 15. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

Earlier on Saturday, an adviser to Ukraine's presidential office said Russian forces are attacking a steel plant that is the last defence stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

Oleksiy Arestovich said during a briefing that the Russian forces have resumed air strikes on Azovstal and were trying to storm it.

"The enemy is trying to completely suppress resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the area of Azovstal," Arestovich said.

Arestovich's statement came two days after Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin that the whole of Mariupol, with the exception of Azovstal, had been "liberated" by the Russians.

WATCH | Deputy mayor claims Mariupol atrocities 'ten times' that of Bucha's: 

Mariupol deputy mayor expects '10 times' the atrocities of Bucha

2 months ago
Duration 10:00
'Mariupol is 10 times more in scale than Bucha, so the number of victims and the number of war crimes should be 10 times more,' said Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov. 'We estimate that about 21,000 of our citizens were killed ... [by] these airstrikes, shelling, artillery missiles.'

Putin ordered the Russian military to not storm the plant and instead to block it off in an apparent attempt to stifle the remaining pocket of resistance there.

Ukrainian officials have estimated that about 2,000 of their troops are inside the plant along with about 1,000 sheltering in the facility's underground tunnels.

Arestovich says the Ukrainian fighters are still holding on despite the resumed attacks and are even trying to counter them.

Battle in the Donbas

The sound of outgoing artillery and air raid sirens were heard Saturday in Sloviansk, a town in northern Donbas that had come under Russian attack the day before.

Two servicemen were brought to a hospital from a nearby town, but one of them was mortally wounded and could not be saved.

The Russian strike early Friday had damaged several buildings, including a school.

Russia has said that establishing full control over the eastern Donbas region, a large part of which has been in the hands of Russia-backed separatists since 2014, is currently one of the main goals of its operation in Ukraine after its initial drive to capture the capital Kyiv failed.

Mariupol is located in the Donbas, and its capture would help Russia establish a land corridor from the region to the southern Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.

Odesa missile strike

An adviser to Zelensky says five people including a three-month-old infant were killed in a missile attack in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.

Ukraine presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, provided the information Saturday.

An adviser to Ukraine's interior minister earlier said Russian forces fired at least six cruise missiles at the city.

Emergency service personnel work to extinguish a fire after a missile strike in Odesa on Saturday. (State Emergency Service Of Ukraine in Odesa Oblast/Reuters)

Anton Gerashchenko said in a Telegram post on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were able to shoot down several missiles, but at least one landed and exploded.

"Residents of the city heard explosions in different areas," Gerashchenko wrote. "Residential buildings were hit."

Zelensky promised to find and punish those responsible for the missile attack.

Countrywide curfew

A top Ukrainian official has announced a country-wide curfew for the night of the Orthodox Easter.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, said in a video address Saturday that in the regions most affected by the invasion — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson — the curfew will run from 7 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday.

A priest blesses believers as they collect traditional cakes and painted eggs prepared for an Easter celebration in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. (Mykola Tys/The Associated Press)

In other regions, including Kyiv, Odesa, Chernihiv and Lviv, the curfew will run from 11 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday.

Zelensky urged Ukrainians to observe a curfew and not attend Orthodox Easter services overnight. The lengthy services traditionally begin late Saturday and run through Sunday morning.

"But starting from 5 a.m. you may go to the church in your city, town or community," he said.