Two “super powerful bombs” rocked Mariupol on Tuesday as Ukrainian authorities made a new attempt to rescue civilians from the besieged port city that has suffered relentless attacks since the Russian invasion began nearly a month ago.
More than 200,000 people were trapped in the strategic city which those who managed to escape described as “a scene of a frozen hell filled with corpses and destroyed buildings”, Human Rights Watch said, citing figures provided by a local official.
“We know that there won’t be enough space for everyone” on Tuesday, but “we will try to do evacuations until we manage to remove all Mariupol residents,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk pledged in a video speech.
Two “super powerful bombs” hit the city even as rescue efforts were underway, Mariupol local authorities said, without giving an immediate count of deaths.
“It is clear that the colonizers are not interested in the city of Mariupol, they want to destroy it to the ground, to turn it to ashes,” authorities said.
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky enlisted the help of Pope Francis, urging the pope to mediate in the conflict and help end “human suffering”.
Earlier, Zelensky said all issues would be discussed if Vladimir Putin of Russia agreed to direct negotiations to end the war, including the disputed eastern Donbas region and the Crimean -inspired peninsula.
But he warned his country would be “destroyed” before giving up.
The Kremlin in response said it would like to see negotiations with Kyiv become “more active and substantial”.
Russia’s position is “notorious on Ukraine’s side” because Moscow submitted its claim in writing “a few days ago”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding, “we want a bigger and faster response”.
The two sides are currently holding remote talks after several rounds of talks between delegations that met on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, but little progress has been made.
With Russia’s military campaign seemingly stalled, concerns are growing that Putin may use more drastic means to change the situation.
US President Joe Biden warned that Putin was considering using chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine, describing Moscow’s tactics as increasingly “cruel”.
Biden is expected to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a series of summits bringing together NATO, EU and G7 leaders, before heading to Poland, which has received most of the more than 3.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country.
Since Russia launched its aggression on Feb. 24, at least 117 children have been killed in the war, Ukrainian federal prosecutors said.
A total of 548 schools were damaged, including 72 completely destroyed.
Russia has continued its offensive, in the face of unprecedented Western sanctions that have caused international companies to withdraw from the country and cause its major banks to be shut down from the SWIFT messaging system.
But both Western and Ukrainian experts believe the war did not go as planned by the Kremlin.
The intruder team ran out of supplies, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN, describing them as “disappointed” and “stalled.”
The assessment was supported by a Ukrainian military order that said the Russian army now had ammunition, food and fuel to last just three days.
Three hundred Russian soldiers have defected in the northeastern Sumy province, the military order added on Facebook.
Even in areas that had been occupied by Russia, resistance continued.
The Ukrainian people are “chasing the Russians and pushing them out of places where the Russians were in the past,” Kirby said, pointing to Mykolaiv, in the south.
“We’ve seen this now increase over the last few days.”
In the occupied southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian leaders on Tuesday accused Russian troops of shooting unarmed protesters.
A series of videos posted on social media and the Telegram messaging app showed citizens gathered in Kherson’s “Freedom Square” protesting Russia’s recent seizure of the city.
Russian troops can be seen firing into the air.
A senior citizen was injured, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly,” he said, accusing Moscow of refusing to allow aid corridors to evacuate civilians and distribute food.
The main target
More critical is the fate of residents of Mariupol, who have had no electricity and water supply for several days.
Several offers to relocate residents have been made but they have collapsed quickly with both sides blaming each other for the violations.
Evicting civilians was a priority on Tuesday, Ukrainian officials said. Three routes have been prepared that connect the port city to Zaporizhzhia, said Deputy Prime Minister Vereshschuk.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has described as a “mass war crime” the siege of Mariupol, which has killed more than 2,000 people.
Russia had given Mariupol until Monday morning to surrender, but Kyiv declined to comment and said the city’s resistance strengthened Ukraine’s entire defenses.
Mariupol was an important target in Putin’s war – providing a land bridge between Russian troops in Crimea to the southwest and Russian -controlled territories to the north and east.
Meanwhile in Kyiv, a 35-hour curfew took effect from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) Monday, after a Russian strike destroyed the “Retroville” shopping complex, killing at least eight people.
Russia claims the mall was used to store rocket and ammunition systems.
Maxim Kostetskyi, 29, a lawyer, said residents of the capital used the “pause” imposed by the sanctions to regroup.
“We don’t know whether Russia will continue their efforts to besiege the city, but we are more confident, its morale is high and inspiring,” he told AFP.
Zelensky has renewed calls for direct talks with Putin.
The Ukrainian president said he was even prepared to discuss Russian -occupied Crimea and Russian -secluded territories in the Donbas, though he insisted he still believed they must be returned to Ukraine.
“At the first meeting with the Russian president, I was prepared to raise these issues,” he said, adding that any agreement involving “historic” changes would be included in a national referendum.
For UN chief Antonio Guterres, it is time for Russia to end the “nonsensical war” in Ukraine.
“Even if Mariupol falls, Ukraine cannot be conquered city after city, street after street, house after house,” he said.
“This war cannot be won. Sooner or later, it will have to move from the battlefield to the peace table. That is inevitable,” he added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)