Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have likely been killed in Russia’s assault on Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers, as he appealed to the Asian nation for weapons.
He explained that Russian forces had slowed down evacuations from the besieged southeastern city, where people have been without water, food and energy supplies for weeks.
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“Mariupol has been destroyed. There are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” Zelenskyy said.
If confirmed, this toll would be by far the largest number of dead so far reported in one place in Ukraine, where cities, towns and villages have come under relentless bombardment and many bodies, including of civilians, have been seen in the streets.
“We need air defence systems, aircraft, tanks and other armoured vehicles, artillery systems and ammunition. And you have something that can be indispensable for us,” he added. “You have it … It is necessary to help.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russia’s RIA news agency on Monday that more than 5,000 people may have been killed in Mariupol, for which he blamed Ukrainian forces.
Thousands of people reportedly remain in the city after several failed evacuation attempts.
Russia does not allow Ukrainian military personnel to leave with civilian evacuees. There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which has previously blamed Ukraine for blocking evacuations.
Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, said on the Telegram messaging service that Russian forces were slowing pre-departure checks.
About 10,000 people were awaiting screening by Russian forces, he said.
Mariupol is among the nine humanitarian corridors agreed with Russia on Monday to evacuate people in besieged eastern regions, but its corridor was for private cars only, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram.
It was not possible to agree on the provision of buses, she said.
Ukraine says Russian forces are massing for a new offensive on eastern areas, including Mariupol.
On Monday, marines in the city said Ukrainian forces are preparing for a “last battle” to control Mariupol.
“Today will probably be the last battle, as the ammunition is running out,” the 36th marine brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Facebook.
“It’s death for some of us, and captivity for the rest,” it added, saying it had been “pushed back” and “surrounded” by the Russian army.