Ukraine appeals to Russia to allow humanitarian supplies into besieged Mariupol

Buildings and vehicles in the besieged city of Mariupol in Ukraine destroyed during Russian attacks. Photograph: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukraine appealed to Russia on Tuesday to allow humanitarian supplies into Mariupol and to let desperate civilians out of the besieged city which president Volodymr Zelenskiy said had been devastated by Russian bombardments.

It came as the president of the United States Joe Biden said Russia’s false accusation that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons is a “clear sign” that a desperate Vladimir Putin is considering using them himself.

Ukraine’s military warned the public on Tuesday of more indiscriminate Russian shelling of critical infrastructure. Russian troops have failed to capture any major Ukrainian city more than four weeks into their invasion, and increasingly are resorting to massive destruction of residential areas with air strikes, long-range missiles and artillery.

The southern port of Mariupol has become a focal point of Russia’s assault and is largely in ruins with bodies on the streets, but attacks were also reported to have intensified on the second city of Kharkiv on Monday.

Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea that was home to 400,000 people before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, has been under siege for weeks, and city officials say it has no food, medicine, power or running water.

“There is nothing left there,” Mr Zelenskiy said in a video address to the Italian parliament.

As he was speaking, the city council said Russian forces had dropped two large bombs on Mariupol but gave no details of casualties or damage. This report could not be independently verified.

“Once again it is clear that the occupiers are not interested in the city of Mariupol. They want to level it to the ground and make it the ashes of dead land,” the council said in a statement.

Russia denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to establish safe passage for civilians out of Mariupol have on Ukraine.

Ukraine defied an ultimatum for the city to surrender by dawn on Monday as a condition for Russian forces to let civilians leave safely.

“We demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians,” deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television on Tuesday. “Our military are defending Mariupol heroically. We did not accept the ultimatum. They offered capitulation under a white flag. This is manipulation, a lie.”

Firefighters douse the fire in the Retroville shopping mall after a Russian attack on the northwest of the capital Kyiv on Monday. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Chemical weapons

The US president said on Monday Mr Putin’s “back is against the wall and now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up including asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true. I guarantee you.”

Mr Biden said: “They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what’s about to come.”

Mr Putin “knows there’ll be severe consequences because of the united Nato front”, he said, without specifying what actions the alliance would take.

The remarks echo previous comments by officials in Washington and allied countries, who have accused Russia of spreading an unproven claim that Ukraine had a biological weapons programme as a possible prelude to potentially launching its own biological or chemical attacks.

Mr Biden spoke after the Pentagon said it had seen “clear evidence” Russian forces were committing war crimes and that it was helping collect evidence. Last week, the US president said he thought Mr Putin was a “war criminal”, as well as a “murderous dictator” and “thug”, comments the Russian foreign ministry said were “unworthy of a state figure of such a high rank” and risked rupturing US-Russian ties.

The UN’s international court of justice has already ordered Moscow to halt its invasion, and a prosecutor at the international criminal court has launched a war crimes investigation.

On Monday night, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy again urged direct talks with Mr Putin, saying: “Without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war.”

He also said his country will never bow to ultimatums from Russia and cities directly under attack, including the capital, Kyiv, and Mariupol and Kharkiv would not accept Russian occupation.

In other developments:

  • The Ukrainian military claimed on Tuesday that Russian forces have stockpiles of ammunition and food that will last for “no more than three days”. Officials said the situation was similar with fuel. It also claimed about 300 Russia servicemen refused to carry out orders in the Okhtyrka district of the Sumy region. These claims have not been independently verified.
  • Mr Biden talked to the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy on Monday as part of his effort to maintain a unified front to Moscow, amid signs of cracks within the EU on how far to go in imposing sanctions on Russian oil and gas.
  • Earlier in the day, Mr Biden warned the US business community of intelligence pointing to a growing Russian cyber threat and urging companies to “immediately” prepare defences. “It’s part of Russia’s playbook” in response to sanctions, he said
  • Almost 10,000 Russian soldiers may have already been killed in the war in Ukraine, and more than 16,000 wounded, according to defence ministry figures reported in a pro-Kremlin tabloid newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda. Previously, the official death toll was 498. The paper later released a statement claiming it had been hacked.
  • Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, heralded new plans to develop an “EU Rapid Deployment Capacity” that could allow the bloc to swiftly deploy up to 5,000 troops for different types of crises. He insisted a “European army” will not be created.
  • In Kyiv, a brand new shopping centre was destroyed in a missile attack that killed at least eight people, the largest attack yet on the capital. Here, witnesses tell their story of the destruction of Retroville.
  • Russia’s defence ministry has accused Kyiv, without providing evidence, of planning a chemical attack against its own people in order to accuse Moscow of using chemical weapons in the invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a month ago.
  • Russia’s invasion has largely stalled, failing to capture any major city, but causing massive destruction to residential areas. – Agencies

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