As Russia bombs the northeastern city of Kharkiv and prepares for an assault in eastern Ukraine, the country’s president has warned President Vladimir Putin’s forces may use chemical weapons , and Western officials said they were investigating an unconfirmed claim by a Ukrainian regiment that a toxic substance was being dropped in Mariupol.
The city has seen some of the heaviest attacks and civilian suffering of the war, but the land, sea and air assaults by Russian forces fighting to capture it have increasingly limited information on what is happening there. inside the city.
Speaking to The Associated Press by phone on Monday, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko accused Russian forces of blocking weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys in the city in part to cover up the carnage. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol could exceed 20,000.
Boychenko also gave new details about allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of siege victims. He said Russian forces took many bodies to a huge shopping center where there were warehouses and refrigerators.
“The mobile crematoria arrived in the form of trucks: you open it up, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,” the mayor said.
Boychenko spoke from Ukrainian-controlled territory outside of Mariupol. The mayor said he had several sources for his description of the alleged methodical burning of bodies by Russian forces in the city, but did not detail the sources.
The discovery of large numbers of civilians apparently massacred after Russian forces withdrew from towns and villages around the capital, Kyiv, has already sparked widespread condemnation and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
These forces withdrew after failing to take kyiv in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance, and they now say they will focus on Donbass, an industrial region in eastern Ukraine. Western officials have reported signs that the Russian military is preparing for a major offensive there.
During a visit to Russia’s Far East on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian military would achieve its goals in Ukraine, saying the campaign was aimed at ensuring Russia’s security. 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 sanctions against Russia.
Putin’s visit to the Vostochny space launch facility marked his first trip outside of Moscow since the February 24 invasion of Russia.
The British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces continued to withdraw from Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine.
“Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,” the ministry said in a tweet. “Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with renewed fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a further push towards Kramatorsk.”
Donbass has been riven by fighting between Russia-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to be hoping local support, logistics and terrain in the Donbas favor the larger and better-armed Russian military, potentially allowing Russian troops to finally turn the tide decisively in their favor in a way that they have struggled to do so far.
Russia has appointed a veteran general to lead its new push into Donbass, but questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer much ground.
With their offensive thwarted in many parts of the country, Russian forces increasingly relied on the bombardment of cities – a strategy that leveled many urban areas and killed thousands. And Western officials have repeatedly warned that Putin may resort to the use of unconventional weapons, especially chemical agents. The warnings were part of a campaign by US and UK authorities to publish intelligence findings on Russian plans, partly as a deterrent.
Zelenskyy repeated that warning in his Monday evening speech. “We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskyy said.
A Russian-allied separatist official, Eduard Basurin, appeared to urge their use on Monday, telling Russian state television that Russian-backed forces should seize a giant metals factory in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces blockading First all factory outlets. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out,” he said.
A Ukrainian regiment defending the plant claimed on Monday, without providing evidence, that a drone had dropped a toxic substance in Mariupol. He said there were no serious injuries.
The claim of the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified.
Basurin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on Tuesday that separatist forces “did not use any chemical weapons in Mariupol”.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the United States could not confirm the drone report from Mariupol. But Kirby noted the administration’s continuing concerns “about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK was “working urgently” to investigate the report.
There seemed to be little diplomatic progress towards the end of a war that has driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including more than 4 million from the country.
Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the town of Bucha outside kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people in the week last at a station.
The UN children’s agency said nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children fled their homes in the six weeks since the Russian invasion began. The United Nations has confirmed that 142 children were killed and 229 injured, although the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.
In Mariupol, around 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, heat and means of communication, the mayor said.
Ukraine accuses Russian forces of forcibly deporting people from the town to Russia. Ukrainian officials said Russian troops were confiscating Ukrainian citizens’ passports, then moving them to “filtration camps” in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine before sending them to remote and economically depressed parts of Ukraine. Russia.
Boychenko said on Monday that those who failed “screening” were transferred to makeshift prisons. He said 33,000 or more people had been taken to Russia or separatist territory in Ukraine.
Russia has denied moving people against their will.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met Putin on Monday after a weekend meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv, but sounded a pessimistic note after what he described as “very direct, open and tough” talks. He said he walked away from the meeting without much optimism that the war would end soon.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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