Kyiv says ‘tens of thousands’ killed in Russian siege of port city of Mariupol

Ukraine bracing for major onslaught by Moscow’s troops in its eastern Donbas region

Ukraine is bracing for a major onslaught by Moscow's troops in its eastern Donbas region, where its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, says tens of thousands of people have been killed in Russia's bombardment of the besieged city of Mariupol.

Diplomacy to end Russia's invasion made no headway on Monday, as Moscow said it would not pause military operations to facilitate future peace talks, and Austria's chancellor gained "no optimistic impression" from a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Humanitarian agencies also fear that the battle for Donbas will drive another surge of displaced people across Ukraine towards the European Union, compounding a crisis that has already forced about a quarter of the country's pre-war population of 42 million from their homes.

"Russia is preparing another offensive. Hoping to break our national resistance after all. The occupiers concentrated tens of thousands of soldiers and a huge amount of equipment to try to strike again," Mr Zelenskiy said on Monday of developments in Donbas.

“The worst situation is in Mariupol, in our southern port city, which has been blocked by Russian troops since March 1st…Mariupol is destroyed. There are tens of thousands of dead. But even despite this the Russians do not stop the offensive. They want to make Mariupol a demonstratively destroyed city,” he said in a video address to the South Korean parliament.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said late on Monday night that there had been “very concerning reports from a number of sources” on the possible use of chemical weapons in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. “Urgent verification of facts needed by international partners,” the Minister said on Twitter.

Mr Coveney’s remarks came after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his regular video statement that Russian forces could use chemical weapons in Ukraine but did not say such weapons had already been deployed.

“We treat this with the utmost seriousness,” Mr Zelenskiy said after unconfirmed reports on Monday suggested chemical weapons were used in the besieged port.

Expansion

Moscow claims it wants to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine, a pro-western democracy, but Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that the "special military operation" was intended to halt the west's "reckless expansion and reckless course towards complete domination in the international arena".

“Russia, of course, with its history and its traditions, is one of those countries that will never occupy a subordinate position. We can only be members of the international community on equal terms of indivisible security,” he added.

He also said Russia had decided “that during further rounds of talks there would be no pause [in military action] until a final agreement is reached”.

Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Monday he had "very direct, open and tough" talks with Mr Putin – the first in-person meeting between the Kremlin leader and an EU head of state since the invasion began on February 24th.

“I generally have no optimistic impression…from this conversation with President Putin. The offensive [in eastern Ukraine] is evidently being prepared on a massive scale,” Mr Nehammer said after the talks outside Moscow.