Kyiv, Ukraine. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the mayor of the municipality said, adding that corpses “line the streets.”
As Russia hit targets around Ukraine and prepared for a major offensive in the east, the country’s leader warned President Vladimir Putin’s forces could use chemical weapons, and Western officials said they were investigating a Ukrainian regiment’s unconfirmed claim that a chemical agent had been used. in Mariupol.
The city has seen some of the worst attacks and civilian suffering during the war, but the land, sea and air attacks of Russian troops trying to take it are increasingly limiting information about what is happening inside the city.
In a phone call to the Associated Press on Monday, Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko accused Russian forces of blocking attempts to bring humanitarian convoys into the city for weeks, in part to cover up the carnage. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol could top 20,000.
Boychenko also provided new details about Ukrainian officials’ allegations that Russian troops had brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of blockade survivors. He said Russian troops took many bodies to a huge shopping mall with warehouses and refrigerators.
“Mobile crematoria were in the form of trucks: you open it, and inside there is a pipe, and these bodies are burned,” the mayor said.
Boychenko made the announcement from Ukrainian-controlled territory outside of Mariupol. The mayor said he had several sources to describe the alleged methodical cremation of bodies by Russian troops in the city, but did not provide any details.
The discovery of a large number of civilians apparently killed after the withdrawal of Russian troops from towns and villages around Kyiv has already sparked widespread condemnation and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Its forces were withdrawn after failing to take Kyiv in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance, and now Russia says it will focus on the Donbass, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine. There are already signs that the army is preparing for a major offensive there.
Putin leaves Moscow
During a visit to Russia’s Far East on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said the military would achieve its goals in Ukraine, saying the campaign’s goal was to keep Russia safe and protect the civilian population there. He added that his country had no intention of isolating itself and that foreign powers would not succeed in isolating it despite a series of wide-ranging economic sanctions.
Putin’s visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome was his first trip outside of Moscow since the February 24 invasion of Russia.
The UK Ministry of Defense said Russian troops are continuing to withdraw troops from Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine, where fighting “will escalate over the next two to three months. weeks.”
Building up its forces in the east, Russia continued to strike at targets in Ukraine, seeking to weaken the country’s defense capability. The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday said it had used air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and aircraft hangar in Starokostiantyniv in western Khmelnytsky Oblast, as well as an ammunition depot near Kyiv.
The Donbas has been torn apart by fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has acknowledged separatist demands for independence. Military strategists say the Russian leadership appears to be hoping that local support, logistics and terrain in Donbas favor a larger and better-armed Russian army, potentially allowing its forces to eventually turn the tide.
Russia has appointed a veteran general to lead its new offensive into the Donbass, but questions remain about the ability of exhausted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer more territory.
With their advances frustrated in many parts of the country, Russian forces increasingly relied on city bombing, a strategy that leveled many urban areas and killed thousands. And Western officials have warned that Mr. Putin may resort to the use of unconventional weapons, especially chemicals.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed the warning in a speech on Monday evening, saying in part that the weapons could be used in Mariupol. “We take this as seriously as possible,” Mr. Zelensky said.
Separatist official with ties to Russia, Eduard Basurin, appeared to have called for their use on Monday, telling Russian state television that separatist forces should seize the giant steel plant in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces, first blocking anyone who leaves the plant. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out,” he said.
The Ukrainian regiment protecting the plant said on Monday, without providing evidence, that a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on the city. He said there were no serious injuries.
The claim of the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian armed forces, has not been independently verified.
Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said the Ukrainian authorities were investigating. She told Ukrainian television that “there is speculation that these are probably phosphorus munitions.” Britain has warned that Russia could use phosphorus bombs in Mariupol, which cause horrendous burns and whose use in civilian areas is prohibited by international law.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the United States could not confirm the report from Mariupol. But Mr. Kirby noted the administration’s continued concerns “about the possibility of Russia using various means of riot control, including tear gas mixed with poisonous substances, in Ukraine.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK was “urgently working” to investigate the report.
Attack in preparation
Meanwhile, Western military analysts say Russia’s offensive is increasingly focused on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north to Kherson in the south.
A senior U.S. Department of Defense official on Monday described the long Russian convoy now moving towards the eastern town of Izyum, supported by artillery, air force and infantry, as part of a redeployment for the upcoming Russian campaign.
Prior to this offensive, diplomatic progress in ending a war that had driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including more than 4 million from the country, and claimed thousands of lives, seemed to be negligible.
The United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) has reported that nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes since the start of the Russian invasion, and Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including the massacre in the town of Bucha. , outside Kyiv; airstrikes on hospitals; and last week’s rocket attack on a train station where people tried to flee.
According to the mayor, about 120,000 civilians in Mariupol are in dire need of food, water, heat and communications.
Ukraine accuses Russian forces of forcibly removing people from a separatist-controlled city in eastern Ukraine and then sending them to remote and economically disadvantaged regions of Russia. Russia denies moving people against their will.