KYIV, April 12 (AP): The besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol yielded up more horrors after six weeks of pummelling by Russian troops; with the mayor saying more than 10,000 civilians have died in the strategic southern port, their corpses “carpeted through the streets.”
As Russia pounded targets around Ukraine and prepared for a major assault in the east, the country’s leader warned President Vladimir Putin’s forces could resort to chemical weapons, and Western officials said they were investigating an unconfirmed claim by a Ukrainian regiment that a poisonous substance was dropped in Mariupol.
The city has seen some of the heaviest attacks and civilian suffering in the war, but the land, sea and air assaults by Russian forces fighting to capture it have increasingly limited information about what’s happening inside the city.
Speaking by phone Monday with The Associated Press, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko accused Russian forces of having blocked weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys into the city in part to conceal the carnage. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000.
Boychenko also gave new details of allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of victims of the siege. He said Russian forces have taken many bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators.
“Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,” the mayor said.
On a visit to Russia’s Far East on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin insisted the military would achieve its goals in Ukraine, saying the campaign was aimed at ensuring Russia’s security and protecting civilians in the east. He added that his country had no intention of isolating itself and that foreign powers wouldn’t succeed in isolating it – despite a raft of sweeping economic sanctions.
Putin’s visit to the Vostochny space launch facility marked his first trip outside Moscow since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
The British Defense Ministry said Russian forces are continuing to pull out of Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine, where it said fighting “will intensify over the next two to three weeks.”
While building up forces in the east, Russia continued to strike targets across Ukraine in a bid to wear down the country’s defenses. Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that it used used air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and airplane hangar at Starokostiantyniv in the western Khmelnytskyi region and an ammunition depot near Kyiv.
The Donbas has been torn by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognized the separatists’ claims of independence. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to hope local support, logistics and terrain in the Donbas favor Russia’s larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing its troops to finally turn the tide decisively in their favor in a way they have struggled to thus far.
Zelenskyy repeated the warning in his nightly address Monday, specifically saying the arms might be used in Mariupol. “We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskyy said.
A Russia-allied separatist official, Eduard Basurin, appeared to urge their use Monday, telling Russian state TV that separatist forces should seize a giant metals plant in Mariupol from Ukrainian forces by first blocking all the exits out of the factory. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out of there,” he said.
A Ukrainian regiment defending the plant claimed Monday, without providing evidence, that a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on the city. It indicated there were no serious injuries.
The claim by the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified.