‘There is nothing left’: 100,000 trapped in besieged Ukrainian city

‘Clear sign’ Putin is weighing up use of chemical weapons in Ukraine, says Biden

The besieged port city of Mariupol is under continuous bombardment as Russian forces redouble their efforts to capture it after its leaders refused to surrender, Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday.

The city council said the pounding was turning Mariupol into the “ashes of a dead land”. Russia’s RIA news agency said Russian forces and units of Russian-backed separatists had taken about half of the city, citing a separatist leader.

The plight of civilians in Mariupol, home to 400,000 people before the war, grows ever more desperate. Hundreds of thousands are believed to be trapped inside buildings, with no access to food, water, power or heat. “There is nothing left there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Italy’s parliament on Tuesday.

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


Mariupol’s deputy mayor Sergei Orlov told CNN the city was under a full blockade and had received no humanitarian aid.

“The city is under continuous bombing, from 50 bombs to 100 bombs Russian aircraft drops each day... a lot of death, a lot of crying, a lot of awful war crimes,” Orlov said.

Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk, speaking on Ukrainian television on Tuesday, demanded the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians. She said at least 100,000 people wanted to leave Mariupol but could not.

Referring to Russia’s demand that the city surrender by dawn on Monday, Ms Vereshchuk said: “Our military are defending Mariupol heroically. We did not accept the ultimatum. They offered capitulation under a white flag.”

Mariupol has become the focus of the war that erupted on February 24th when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops over the border on what he calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and replace its pro-Western leadership. It lies on the Sea of Azov and its capture would allow Russia to link areas in the east held by pro-Russian separatists with the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Having failed to seize the capital Kyiv or any other major city with a swift offensive, Russian forces are waging a war of attrition that has reduced some urban areas to rubble and taken a huge civilian toll.

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva said on Tuesday it had recorded 953 civilian deaths and 1,557 injured since the invasion, although the actual toll was believed to be much higher. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.

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, Mr Zelenskiy again called for 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.
  • 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