Intense Russian air strikes are turning besieged Mariupol into “the ashes of a dead land”, the city council said on Tuesday, as street skirmishes and bombardment unfolded. in the port city.
Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be trapped inside buildings, without access to food, water, electricity or heat. Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said both civilians and Ukrainian troops were coming under Russian fire.
Russia’s RIA news agency said Russian forces and Russian-backed separatist units have taken over about half of the port city, which is normally home to some 400,000 people, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted RIA news agency. a separatist leader said.
But in an early morning speech, Zelenskyy raised hopes for negotiations, which have yielded little since the invasion began on 24 February.
“It was very difficult, sometimes confrontational,” he said. “But step by step we are moving forward.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine has displaced more than 3.5 million people, caused unprecedented isolation for the Russian economy and raised fears of broader conflict in the region. West for decades.
Mariupol has been at the center of the war that has erupted when Putin has sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and replacing the country’s pro-Western leadership. this.
Russian forces continue attacks across Ukraine on Tuesday
The port city lies on the Sea of Azov and capturing it would allow Russia to link areas in the east held by pro-Russian separatists with the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Western nations plan to put more pressure on the Kremlin.
Along with European leaders, US President Joe Biden is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia and new measures to tighten existing ones when he visits Brussels this week. this.
The United States is preparing sanctions on more than 300 members of Russia’s lower house as early as Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials and internal documents.
“There has been no final decision on who we will sanction and how much we will impose,” a White House spokesman said.
“We will have additional sanctions to announce that will be deployed alongside our allies on Thursday when the President has a chance to speak to them.”
Biden announced new US sanctions against Russia while in Europe attending NATO, EU meetings
Biden’s European trip also includes an announcement of joint action to strengthen energy security on a continent heavily dependent on Russian gas, and a visit to Poland to show solidarity with the country. neighboring Ukraine.
Unable to capture the capital Kyiv or any other major city with a flash attack, Russia is waging a war of attrition that has left some urban areas in ruins and alarmed the West. fear that the conflict could escalate, even lead to nuclear war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Russia’s security policy stipulates that the country will only use such weapons if its very existence is threatened.
“If it is an existential threat to our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept,” he said.
Earlier, he said “no one” had ever thought that the operation in Ukraine would only last a few days and that the operation would go according to plan, the TASS news agency reported.
‘This war is invincible:’ UN Secretary-General calls on Russia, Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war
Western officials say Russian forces have stalled around Kyiv but have made some progress south and east. Ukrainian warplanes are pushing back Russian troops in several places but are unable to turn back, they said.
Russia’s combat power in Ukraine has fallen below 90% of pre-invasion levels, a senior US defense official said on Tuesday without providing evidence. If confirmed, it would indicate heavy weapon damage and increasing casualties.
The United Nations human rights office in Geneva on Tuesday said it had recorded 953 civilian deaths and 1,557 injuries since the invasion. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.
According to the United Nations, millions have fled abroad, leaving Eastern Europe scrambling to provide them with care, schools and jobs.
UN warns Ukraine refugee crisis pushes available aid to the brink
The United States plans to launch an effort this week to make it easier for some people to enter after only a handful of refugees were admitted in the first two weeks of March, according to three people familiar with the matter. .
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, speaking on Ukrainian TV on Tuesday, said at least 100,000 people wanted to leave Mariupol but could not.
A Reuters team that approached part of the Russian-held city on Sunday described a wasteland with charred apartment blocks and bodies wrapped in blankets lying by the roadside.
Ukraine says Russian artillery shells, bombs and rockets have hit a theatre, an art school and other public buildings, burying hundreds of women and children who were sheltering in cellars.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of deporting residents of Mariupol and areas inhabited by Ukraine’s separatists to Russia. This includes the “forced transfer” of 2,389 children to Russia from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, said Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
Moscow denies forcing people to leave, saying it is accepting refugees.
In Kherson, a city under Russian control, Ukrainian officials say Moscow’s forces are preventing supplies from reaching civilians.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter: “Citizens of 300k Kherson are facing a humanitarian disaster due to a blockade by the Russian military.
Russia did not immediately comment on the situation in Kherson.
Zelenskyy warned that the crisis in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, would lead to famine elsewhere.
“How can we sow (crops) under Russian artillery attacks?” he told Italian lawmakers.
(Reporting by Reuters office; Writing by Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates)