As Mariupol clings on, the extent of the horror is unknown | News, Sports, Jobs

People carry wooden planks to cover the windows of a building damaged by a bomb attack the day before in kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 21, 2022. As Russia steps up its efforts to subdue Mariupol, its ground offensive in other parts of Ukraine has bogged down. Western officials and analysts say the conflict is turning into a bitter war of attrition, with Russia bombing cities. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — As Mariupol defenders resisted Russian demands to surrender on Monday, the number of bodies in the rubble of the bombed-out and surrounded Ukrainian city remained shrouded in uncertainty, the scale of the horror not yet known.

With communications crippled, movement restricted and many residents in hiding, the fate of those inside a razed arts school on Sunday and a theater destroyed four days earlier was unclear.

It is thought that more than 1,300 people took refuge in the theater and 400 would have been in art school.

Perched on the Sea of ​​Azov, Mariupol is a key target that has been shelled relentlessly for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst suffering of the war. Falling the southern port city would help Russia establish a land bridge to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

But no clear image emerged from the proximity of his capture.

“Nobody can tell from the outside if he’s really about to be caught,” said Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

Over the weekend, Moscow had offered safe passage out of Mariupol – a corridor leading east to Russia, another going west to other parts of Ukraine – in exchange for surrender. of the city before daybreak on Monday. Ukraine flatly rejected the offer long before the deadline.

Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died during the siege, some of them buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but the number is feared to be much higher after six more days of shelling.

For those who remain, conditions have become brutal. The assault cut off electricity, water and food supplies to Mariupol and severed communications with the outside world, plunging residents into a struggle for survival. New commercial satellite images showed smoke rising from buildings recently hit by Russian artillery.

“What is happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime,” said European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Mariupol had a pre-war population of around 430,000. About a quarter are thought to have left in the early days of the war, and tens of thousands have escaped over the past week through a humanitarian corridor. Other attempts were foiled by fighting.

Those who came out of Mariupol spoke of a devastated city.

“There are no more buildings there,” said Maria Fiodorova, 77, who crossed the border into Poland on Monday after five days of travel.

Olga Nikitina, who fled Mariupol for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where she arrived on Sunday, said gunshots ripped through her windows and her apartment fell below zero .

“Battles took place in all the streets. Every house has become a target,” she said.

A long line of vehicles lined a road in Bezimenne, Ukraine, as residents of Mariupol sought refuge in a temporary camp set up by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region. An estimated 5,000 people from Mariupol took refuge in the camp. Many arrived in cars with signs reading “children” in Russian.

A woman named Yulia said she and her family sought refuge in Bezimenne after a bomb attack destroyed six houses behind her house.

“That’s why we got in the car, at our own risk, and left in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, dead bodies are lying around,” she said. “They don’t let us go everywhere – there are shootings.”

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urged Russia to respect the Geneva Convention and allow humanitarian aid into the city.

A total of more than 8,000 people fled to safer areas on Monday through humanitarian corridors, including about 3,000 from Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Russian shelling of a hallway injured four children on a road leading to Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

As Russia steps up its efforts to subjugate Mariupol, its ground offensive in other parts of the country has stalled, slowed by deadly Ukrainian hit-and-run attacks. Western officials and analysts say the conflict is turning into a bitter war of attrition, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces using air power and artillery to pulverize towns from a distance.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased air sorties over the past two days, flying up to 300 over the past 24 hours, and had fired more than 1,100 missiles at Ukraine. since the start of the invasion.

In a video address Monday evening, Zelenskyy praised those who fought back against Russia.

“There is no need to organize resistance,” he said. “The resistance of Ukrainians is part of their soul.”

In the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson on Monday, Russian forces fired into the air and fired stun grenades at protesters who were chanting “Go home!” Earlier this month, Kherson became the first major city to fall under the Russian offensive.

“We saw slaves shooting free people, slaves to propaganda that replaced their conscience,” the Ukrainian leader said.

In the capital, Kyiv, a shopping mall in the densely populated Podil neighborhood near the city center lay in a smoking ruin after being hit by a shelling on Sunday evening that killed eight people, emergency officials said. The attack shattered all the windows of a nearby skyscraper.

Russian military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov accused Ukrainian forces of using the mall to store rockets and reload launchers. This claim could not be independently verified.

The British Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian resistance has kept the bulk of Moscow’s forces more than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the center of kyiv, but the capital “remains Russia’s main military objective”.

Amid continued shelling, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced a curfew extending from Monday evening to Wednesday morning.

Ukrainian authorities also said Russia bombed a chemical plant outside the eastern city of Sumy, sending toxic ammonia from a 50-tonne tank, and hit a training base military in the Rivne region of western Ukraine with cruise missiles.

Konashenkov said 80 foreign and Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Rivne attack. There was no immediate word from the Ukrainian side on the casualties.

In the Black Sea port city of Odessa, authorities said Russian forces damaged civilian homes in a strike on Monday. The city council said no one was killed.

The Russian invasion drove nearly 3.5 million people from Ukraine, according to the United Nations. The UN confirmed the death of more than 900 civilians, but said the true toll was likely much higher. Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the thousands.

Talks between Russia and Ukraine continued via video but failed to bridge the chasm between the two sides, with the Kremlin demanding that Ukraine disarm and declare itself neutral and Ukraine calling for guarantees of security restrictions and the withdrawal of all Russian forces.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned that relations with the United States are “on the brink of rupture”, citing “unacceptable statements” by US President Joe Biden about Putin. Biden last week called the Russian leader a war criminal.

In another worrying development, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said radiation monitors around the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, have stopped working.

The agency said this problem, and the lack of firefighters to protect the region’s radiation-contaminated forests as the weather warms, could mean a “significant deterioration” in the ability to control the spread of radiation in Ukraine. and beyond.

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