KYIV: Two “super powerful bombs” rocked Mariupol on Tuesday as Ukrainian authorities made a fresh attempt at rescuing civilians from the besieged port city which has suffered relentless shelling since Russia’s invasion began almost a month ago.
More than 200,000 people are trapped in the strategic city described by those who managed to escape as a “freezing hellscape riddled with dead bodies and destroyed buildings”, Human Rights Watch said, quoting figures provided by a local official.
“We know that there will not be enough space for everyone” on Tuesday, but “we will try to carry out the evacuation until we have gotten all the inhabitants of Mariupol out,” vowed Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk in a video address.
Two “super powerful bombs” slammed into the city even as rescue efforts were ongoing, said Mariupol local authorities, without giving an immediate toll.
“It is clear that the occupiers are not interested in the city of Mariupol, they want to raze it to the ground, to reduce it to ashes,” the authorities said.
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky turned to Pope Francis for help, urging the pontiff to mediate in the conflict and to help end “human suffering”.
Earlier, Zelensky said all issues would be on the table if Russia’s Vladimir Putin agreed to direct talks to end the war, including the contested eastern regions Donbas and the annexed Crimea peninsula.
But he warned his country would be “destroyed” before it surrenders.
The Kremlin in return said it would like to see negotiations with Kyiv to be “more active and substantial”.
Russia’s position was “well-known to the Ukrainian side” because Moscow handed over its demands in written form “many days ago”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding, “we would like a more substantial and swift answer”.
The two sides are currently holding negotiations remotely after several rounds of talks between delegations meeting on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, but little progress has been made.
With Russia’s military campaign appearing to stall, fears are growing that Putin may resort to even more drastic means to turn the tide.
US President Joe Biden warned that Putin was considering using chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine, as he described Moscow’s tactics as increasingly “brutal”.
Biden is due to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a series of summits gathering NATO, EU and G7 leaders, before heading to Poland, which has received the bulk of more than 3.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country.
Since Russia launched its invasion on February 24, at least 117 children have been killed in the war, Ukraine’s federal prosecutor said.
Some 548 schools have been damaged, including 72 completely destroyed.
Russia has pushed on with its assaults, in the face of unprecedented Western sanctions that has led international companies to pull out of the country and left its key banks shut out of the SWIFT messaging system.
But both Western and Ukrainian experts believe the war was not going the way the Kremlin had planned.
The invading forces were running out of supplies, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN, describing them as “frustrated” and “stalled.”