The Associated Press estimated at least 10,300 new graves in and around Mariupol — most in the Staryi Krym cemetery — by analyzing satellite imagery from early March through December, noting sections where the earth had been disturbed.
AP measured each grid section where the cemetery had been expanded and calculated the total space occupied by new graves to be more than 51,500 square meters.
AP then reviewed drone and video footage that showed the Russians had used heavy machinery to dig long trenches which were then filled back in. The graves were visible as dirt mounds, sometimes with wooden crosses bearing names and dates but mostly with hand-scrawled numbers on small placards. A few graves were marked with more than one number, potentially indicating more than one set of human remains.
AP analyzed the video footage to count the number of graves in specific sections of the cemetery, estimating an average of roughly one grave for every six square meters. AP applied that metric to the total space where new burial plots had been dug. AP then applied the same methodology to two smaller nearby cemeteries in the villages of Manghush and Vynohradne, where similar mass graves had been dug since March. In addition, there is a trench grave dug by Ukrainians during the siege.
Three forensic archaeologists experienced in mass graves war crimes investigations said the analysis was sound, based on the limited information available and the lack of access to the graves. Roland Wessing, who helped excavate mass graves in Bosnia, Croatia and Iraq, cautioned that the number of graves doesn’t necessarily match the number of Ukrainians killed.
The analysis can’t determine how the occupants of the graves died. However, mass burial sites elsewhere in Ukraine exhumed by international forensics investigators and observed by AP were often found to contain more than one set of human remains per grave. Many showed clear indications of violent death, such as blast injuries, bullet wounds and hands bound with rope.