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200 bodies found in Mariupol basement as war rages in Ukraine's east

WORKERS digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities announced today.

The bodies were decomposing and a stench permeated the neighbourhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. It's not clear when they were discovered.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a months-long siege that finally ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel mill surrendered to the Russian invaders.

Russian forces already held the rest of the city, where an estimated 100,000 people remain out of a prewar population of 450,000, many trapped without food, water, heat or electricity.

Ukrainian authorities have said at least 21,000 people have been killed — and accused Russia of trying to cover up the extent of the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment.

They have also alleged some of the dead were buried in mass graves. Strikes have also hit a maternity hospital and a theatre where civilians were sheltering.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Russians of waging “total war,” seeking to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

Russian forces have intensified efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk and neighbouring cities, the only part of the Donbass’s Lugansk region that remains under Ukrainian government control.

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow is deliberately slowing down its offensive to allow residents of encircled cities to evacuate — even though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks of relentless bombardments, residents formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and other staples this week.

Galina Kolembed, the aid distribution centre coordinator, told The Associated Press that more and more people are returning to the city after Russian forces withdrew to focus on the Donbass.

Ms Kolembed said the centre is providing food to over 1,000 people every day — a number that keeps growing.

“Many of them have small kids, and they spend their money on the kids, so they need some support with food,” she said.

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