Bodies buried in Mariupol mass grave as charity warns of 'apocalyptic' scenes in besieged city

Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol. Credit: AP

Food and water supplies in Mariupol are running dangerously low, a charity has warned, as its workers on the ground described "apocalyptic" scenes in the besieged Ukrainian city, with mass graves having to be dug for the deceased.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the encircled city of 430,000, with power and sanitation supplies in short supply.

Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied of content days ago by people breaking into get supplies, according to a local official with the Red Cross.

Ukrainian authorities have said that repeated attempts to send in food and medicine and evacuate civilians have been thwarted by Russian shelling.

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The ICRC have announced that it is now scaling up its response to meet people's vast needs.

"Teams from the ICRC have been delivering medical supplies, food, water and hygiene material in Kyiv, Mariupol, Odessa, Donetsk, Luhansk, and many other places," Martin Schüepp, ICRC's regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

"But it's clear much more must be done to assist the skyrocketing number of people in need."

The comments come as the Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that 1,300 people have been killed in the city, a strategic port on the Azov Sea.

Women waiting to give birth at Mariupol hospital were among those injured. Credit: AP

Three people, including a little girl, were killed and at least 17 people, including women waiting to give birth, were hurt in an attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday, which also left children buried under rubble, officials said.

Mariupol's Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said that Ukrainian officials are "absolutely sure" the hospital and maternity centres were Russian troops' targets, as he confirmed the "awful" number of casualties.

He said the death toll would have been much higher had most patients not been hiding out in bomb shelters, and believes the confirmed death toll in Mariupol is an underestimate.

Local police have counted 1,207 killed in the city - but these are just bodies on the street, Mr Orlov said. "But I think the numbers are much more - three or four times more," he added.

'We're absolutely sure that [the hospital] was their target... it is a war crime of the Russian army' - Mariupol's deputy mayor Sergei Orlov speaks to ITV News

The situation is so dire that local officials in Mariupol have been burying the dead in a mass grave, with city workers having dug a 25m-long trench at one of the city’s old cemeteries.

More than 70 bodies have been placed in the common grave since it was opened Tuesday.

About half of those buried were killed in the intense shelling of the city, a journalist from the Associated Press who visited the burial ground estimated.

A mortuary worker sits on body bags before they were transported to be buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol. Credit: AP

Residents are staying in shelters as much as possible as temperatures dip below freezing in the night time.

Amid the desperate conditions, the ICRC said on Thursday that it has sent food, water and hygiene items to 4,000 people in shelters in Mariupol.

Meanwhile, surgical materials were sent to three main hospitals in the capital Kyiv, which on Tuesday saw a steady rain of shells and rockets falling in suburban areas.

More than two million people who have been forced to flee Ukraine are relying on other countries to provide refuge, with many seeking sanctuary in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.