Civilians trapped in Ukraine’s Mariupol have gone through “two days of hell”, a local official said on Friday, claiming Russian attacks “every 30 minutes” have scuppered any attempt at evacuations from the besieged port city.
Some 400,000 people remain in Mariupol, where Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Russian forces were continuing to “cynically, ruthlessly and purposefully” attack apartment buildings.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“Every 30 minutes, planes arrived over the city of Mariupol and worked on residential areas, killing civilians – the elderly, women, children,” he said in an online post. “Is this the greatness of the Russian army today?”
Amid the shelling, not a single civilian was able to leave Mariupol on Thursday, officials said.
Petro Andrushenko, an adviser to the mayor, said the Russians wanted to “delete our people. They want to stop any evacuation.”
Mariupol is strategically important as its capture would allow Russia to link up pro-Moscow enclaves in the east and Russian-annexed Crimea to the south.
Its 10-day siege has resulted in at least 1,300 deaths, according to Ukrainian officials. The United Nations’ human rights office said on Friday it had recorded 564 civilian deaths across Ukraine, including 41 children – though the actual toll is believed to be far higher since it has not yet been able to corroborate reports from areas where intense hostilities are ongoing.
Russian attacks have also thwarted renewed efforts to send food, water and medicine into the city, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said Russian forces began a tank attack on a humanitarian corridor into the city on Thursday.
The “occupiers launched a tank attack exactly where this corridor was supposed to be”, Zelenskyy said in a televised address. “They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it.”
He added, “This is outright terror … from experienced terrorists.”
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
The siege has left civilians in Mariupol, where daytime temperatures hover just above freezing, scrounging for food and fuel, according to The Associated Press news agency, and cut off heat and phone service, as well as electricity in many areas.
Bodies are being buried in mass graves, according to the AP, while the streets are littered with burned-out cars, broken glass and splintered trees.
Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by people breaking in to get supplies, according to a local official with the Red Cross, Sacha Volkov. A black market is operating for vegetables, meat is unavailable, and people are stealing gasoline from cars, Volkov told AP.
Places protected from bombings are hard to find, with basements reserved for women and children, he said.
Residents, Volkov said, are turning on one another: “People started to attack each other for food.”
The dire reports came as global condemnation grew over a Russian attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol that killed three, including a child, and wounded some 17 people.
The wounded included women waiting to give birth, doctors, and children buried in the rubble.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “a shameful and immoral act of war”. United Kingdom Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime”.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Ukraine’s neighbour Poland, backed calls for an international war-crimes investigation into the invasion, saying, “The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.”
But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed concerns about civilian casualties in Ukraine as “pathetic shrieks” from Moscow’s enemies.
He also said the hospital struck on Wednesday had stopped treating patients and had been occupied by Ukrainian “radicals”.
“They drove out the women in labour, nurses and general staff. It was the base of the ultra-radical Azov Battalion,” he said in Turkey, after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart there made little apparent progress.