Investigating Russia’s Devastation of Mariupol, Daily Brief February 8, 2024

Daily Brief, February 8, 2024


This is a big one. It’s not every day Human Rights Watch releases such a massive research project.

Usually, two or three in-house investigators focus on an issue for three to six months and draft a report with input from our legal experts and other internal specialists. That’s a lot of work as it is. Sometimes, the scope of the research is a bit wider, and it takes a few extra months.

But this major new project on Mariupol – which HRW has done jointly with the leading Ukrainian human rights organization Truth Hounds and the visual investigations agency SITU Research – is on another level. It took nearly two years and involved dozens of researchers and other experts.

From multiple angles using a variety of tools, the project documents the terrible consequences of Russia’s assault on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol between February 24 and May 20, 2022. The devastation – and Russia’s continued efforts to erase Ukrainian culture there – was one of the worst chapters of Russia’s atrocity-ridden invasion and occupation of Ukraine so far.

The operation, which included Russian forces pounding Mariupol for weeks with explosive weapons, left thousands of Ukrainian civilians dead and injured. It trapped hundreds of thousands for weeks. And it turned a thriving city into a wasteland of charred buildings and shallow graves.

Our detailed damage assessment of the city center found more than 4,800 buildings were damaged, including 93% of the area’s 477 high-rise apartment buildings. Our city-wide assessment found all 19 of the city’s hospital campuses, and 86 of the 89 schools and universities we identified were damaged.  

We also documented extensive damage to city infrastructure, which left residents without power, running water, heating, gas, or the ability to communicate with the outside world for weeks as they sheltered in basements in the darkness and sub-freezing temperatures. 

In the first two weeks of March, multiple attempts to provide safe passage out of the city and to bring humanitarian aid into the city failed in the face of Russian obstruction.

The report also contains 14 case studies of specific attacks that killed and injured civilians. This includes attacks that struck hospitals, a theater, a food storage facility, an aid distribution site, a supermarket, and residential buildings serving as shelters.

In those incidents, we either found no evidence of a Ukrainian military presence in or near the building that was struck or found only a limited military presence. We built 3D reconstructions of seven of these attack sites to illustrate the damage.  

We identified 17 Russian and Russia-affiliated military and national guard units that were operating in Mariupol in March and April 2022, and we name ten senior Russian commanders involved in the assault.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials should be investigated and prosecuted for their role in these apparent war crimes, and Russia should pay reparations to victims and their families. 

Again, this project was a big one. With a 215-page report, a 22-minute video and a detailed digital feature, it is surely the most comprehensive look at Russian crimes in Mariupol to date.

I encourage you to take a look for yourself: start here.