Intense Russian air strikes are turning besieged Mariupol into the “ashes of a dead land”, the city council said on Tuesday, as the United States and Europe planned more sanctions to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
Street fighting and bombardments raged in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said, a day after it rejected an ultimatum from Russia to surrender. Hundreds of thousands are believed to be trapped inside buildings, with no access to food, water, power or heat.
Russian forces and Russian-backed separatist units had taken about half of the port city, normally home to around 400,000 people, Russia’s RIA news agency said, citing a separatist leader.
Street fighting was taking place in the city, and both civilians and Ukrainian troops were coming under Russian fire, said regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
“There is nothing left there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Italy’s parliament.
Mariupol 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.
Mariupol has become the focus of the war that erupted on Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops over the border on what he calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise 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.
Putin’s 27-day long incursion into Ukraine has forced more than 3.5 million to flee, brought the unprecedented isolation of Russia’s economy, and raised fears of wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.
Western nations plan to heap more economic pressure on the Kremlin.
U.S. President Joe Biden will join allies in applying additional sanctions and tightening existing ones during his trip to Europe this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday.
The trip will also include an announcement on joint action to enhance energy security in Europe, which is highly reliant on Russian gas, and Biden will show solidarity with Ukraine’s neighbour, Poland, with a visit to Warsaw.