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Boris Johnson today said he fears Vladimir Putin will use chemical weapons in Ukraine because it would be ‘straight out of Russia’s playbook’. 

The Prime Minister said Mr Putin is in charge of a ‘cynical, barbaric government’ and he believes Moscow could resort to deploying chemical weapons after its invasion stalled in the face of fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces. 

Mr Johnson also said he believes Russia is preparing a ‘fake story’ which it could use to deny using the weapons and to blame the West. 

The Prime Minister told Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews show: ‘I will make you one other prediction by the way which is that the stuff that you are hearing about chemical weapons, this is straight out of their playbook.

‘They start saying that there are chemical weapons that have been stored by their opponents or by the Americans and so when they themselves deploy chemical weapons, as I fear they may, they have a sort of maskirovka, a fake story, ready to go. And you have seen it in Syria. You saw it even in the UK.’

Asked if it was his expectation that Russia will use chemical weapons, the premier said: ‘I just note that that is what they are already doing [preparing a fake story]. It is a cynical, barbaric government I am afraid.’

Mr Johnson’s comments came after Defence minister James Heappey insisted the bombing of a maternity hospital in Ukraine was a war crime as he called for Mr Putin and Russian generals to be held to account.

Mr Heappey stressed that the West is gathering evidence that can be used in a future prosecution, but said in a round of interviews: ‘What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.’ 

It has been confirmed three people, including a child, died when warplanes bombed the hospital in besieged Mariupol as pregnant women gave birth in the basement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the attack as an ‘atrocity’ and ‘the ultimate proof of genocide against Ukrainians’. 

Boris Johnson today said he fears Vladimir Putin will use chemical weapons in Ukraine because it would be 'straight out of Russia's playbook'. He made the comments to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews show

Boris Johnson today said he fears Vladimir Putin will use chemical weapons in Ukraine because it would be 'straight out of Russia's playbook'. He made the comments to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews show

Boris Johnson today said he fears Vladimir Putin will use chemical weapons in Ukraine because it would be ‘straight out of Russia’s playbook’. He made the comments to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews show

The Prime Minister said Mr Putin is in charge of a 'cynical, barbaric government' and he believes Moscow could resort to deploying chemical weapons after its invasion stalled in the face of fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces

The Prime Minister said Mr Putin is in charge of a 'cynical, barbaric government' and he believes Moscow could resort to deploying chemical weapons after its invasion stalled in the face of fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces

The Prime Minister said Mr Putin is in charge of a ‘cynical, barbaric government’ and he believes Moscow could resort to deploying chemical weapons after its invasion stalled in the face of fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces

The hospital, in the besieged city of Mariupol, was hit ‘several times’ by high-explosive Russian bombs – one of which missed the building by yards and left a crater two-stories deep, officials said. Other bombs scored ‘direct hits’, President Zelensky said, wounding at least 17 people.

Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister, said there can be ‘no doubt’ the hospital was deliberately ‘targeted’ by Russia in a chilling echo tactics used during the bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo while Putin’s men were fighting alongside dictator Basahr al-Assad’s troops. Moscow denies targeting civilian facilities. 

And Mr Heappey told Sky News this morning: ‘What you see on your TV screens is a war crime. 

‘Clearly there is evidence to be gathered in which to prove it is a war crime, and Western countries are working together to make sure that evidence is gathered in the best way so people can be held to account.

‘What Putin is doing is not a war waged between two militaries. Right now he has besieged a number of Ukrainian cities and he has waged a war against Ukrainian civilians.’ 

He added on BBC Breakfast: ‘We ask ourselves the question how did this happen? Was it an indiscriminate use of artillery or missiles into a built-up area, or was a hospital explicitly targeted?

‘Both are equally despicable, both, as the Ukrainians have pointed out, would amount to a war crime.

‘So, what matters beyond the outrage of the fact that this has happened in the first place is to make sure all this is catalogued so when – and they surely will be – President Putin and everybody in the military chain of command beneath him – because war crimes are committed at every level not just the ultimate decisionmaker – people will be held to account for what they are doing in. It’s utterly despicable.’

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Pressed on whether he thinks the attack constitutes a war crime, he replied: ‘Yes, if you deliberately target a piece of civilian infrastructure like a hospital, yes.

‘If you use indiscriminate artillery into an urban area without due regard for the reality, you could hit a protected site like a hospital, then that too in my view is.’

Many of the pregnant women present at the hospital were hiding the the basement at the time of the strike on the orders of hospital authorities – a move indicative of the harsh bombardment suffered by Mariupol’s citizens over the past week, and one which likely saved their lives.

Zelensky himself posted a video showing the badly damaged hospital buildings, filmed inside a destroyed ward room with its windows blown out and ceiling partially collapsed. More footage showed a car park covered in rubble and the smouldering wrecks of vehicles as injured families staggered into the freezing air while snow fell. 

‘Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity,’ the President tweeted.

He then took to Telegram, where he released a video statement from the presidential palace in Kyiv in which he said the hospital strike ‘is the ultimate proof that what is happening is the genocide of Ukrainians’.

‘Europeans, you can’t say you didn’t see what is happening. You have to tighten the sanctions until Russia can’t continue their savage war,’ he said.

‘What kind of country bombs hospitals? Is afraid of hospitals? Of a maternity ward? 

‘Was someone insulting Russians? Were pregnant women shooting in direction of Rostov? Was it the ”denazification” of a hospital? What the Russians did at Mariupol was beyond savagery.’

In a separate interview with Sky News, Zelensky added that Russian invaders want Ukrainians ‘to feel like animals’ by preventing them from accessing food or water, and implored NATO and the West to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

‘They want us to feel like animals because they blocked our cities… because they don’t want our people to get some food or water.

‘Don’t wait for me to ask you several times, a million times, to close the sky. You have to phone us, to our people who lost their children, and say ”sorry we didn’t do it yesterday.” 

Mr Johnson has condemned the strike as ‘depraved’ and vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military. 

‘There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless,’ the Prime Minister declared. 

‘The UK is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against airstrikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes,’ he added.  

Mr Johnson later on Wednesday committed to enacting the ‘maximum economic cost’ on Russia in wake of the bombing, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to say aggression like Vladimir Putin’s must ‘never again’ be allowed to ‘grow unchecked’ in her speech tomorrow in Washington.  

Ms Truss will make comparisons between the Russian president’s actions and the World Trade Centre terror attack in 2001, and will urge the international community to change its approach to dealing with antagonistic world leaders.

The White House press secretary Jen Psaki also commented: ‘As a mother – I know a number of you are mothers – it is horrifying to see the barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians in a sovereign country.’

Mariupol’s city council said the hospital had suffered ‘colossal’ damage but did not immediately give a figure of the wounded and dead. 

The deputy head of Mr Zelensky’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities are trying to establish the number of victims.

Ukrainian MP Dmitry Gurin told the BBC: ‘There are a lot of dead and wounded women. We don’t know about children or newborns yet.’ 

Video footage from the aftermath of the attack showed that large parts of the hospital had completely collapsed, while blood soaked mattresses were pictured lying in hallways. 

‘Russia committed a huge crime,’ said Volodymir Nikulin, a top regional police official, standing in the ruins. ‘It is a war crime without any justification.’  

Mariupol has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week, with food, water and electricity cut off several days ago – with the Red Cross describing conditions there as ‘apocalyptic’. 

The head of the Ukrainian Red Cross said yesterday’s strike will likely cause a complete collapse of paediatric care in Mariupol, as much of the hospital’s equipment and the paediatric care wards were reduced to ashes. 

A woman injured in Russian shelling of Mariupol's maternity hospital stands outside wrapped in a blanket amid the carnage

A woman injured in Russian shelling of Mariupol's maternity hospital stands outside wrapped in a blanket amid the carnage

A woman injured in Russian shelling of Mariupol’s maternity hospital stands outside wrapped in a blanket amid the carnage

The aftermath of the Russia bombardment on the children and maternity hospital in Mariupol

The aftermath of the Russia bombardment on the children and maternity hospital in Mariupol

The aftermath of the Russia bombardment on the children and maternity hospital in Mariupol 

James Heappey said the West is gathering evidence that can be used in a future prosecution, but added in interviews: 'What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.'

James Heappey said the West is gathering evidence that can be used in a future prosecution, but added in interviews: 'What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.'

James Heappey said the West is gathering evidence that can be used in a future prosecution, but added in interviews: ‘What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.’

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from the maternity hospital

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from the maternity hospital

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from the maternity hospital

A woman outside the maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol

A woman outside the maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol

A woman outside the maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol

The wreckage of the maternity hospital after the Russian bombardment in Mariupol

The wreckage of the maternity hospital after the Russian bombardment in Mariupol

The wreckage of the maternity hospital after the Russian bombardment in Mariupol

Rescuers on the scene at a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol are locked in a race against time as they try to free survivors from the rubble after the complex suffered a 'direct hit' by Russian rockets yesterday

Rescuers on the scene at a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol are locked in a race against time as they try to free survivors from the rubble after the complex suffered a 'direct hit' by Russian rockets yesterday

Rescuers on the scene at a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol are locked in a race against time as they try to free survivors from the rubble after the complex suffered a ‘direct hit’ by Russian rockets yesterday

An injured pregnant woman walks downstairs in a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022

An injured pregnant woman walks downstairs in a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022

An injured pregnant woman walks downstairs in a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022

An official death toll for the heinous attack has not yet been established but rescuers are working desperately to find and free those still trapped under the rubble with temperatures in the besieged city set to plunge to minus 4 degrees C overnight

An official death toll for the heinous attack has not yet been established but rescuers are working desperately to find and free those still trapped under the rubble with temperatures in the besieged city set to plunge to minus 4 degrees C overnight

An official death toll for the heinous attack has not yet been established but rescuers are working desperately to find and free those still trapped under the rubble with temperatures in the besieged city set to plunge to minus 4 degrees C overnight

A Russian attack severely damaged the children's hospital and maternity ward in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said. President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter that there were 'people, children under the wreckage' of the hospital and called the strike an 'atrocity'

A Russian attack severely damaged the children's hospital and maternity ward in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said. President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter that there were 'people, children under the wreckage' of the hospital and called the strike an 'atrocity'

A Russian attack severely damaged the children’s hospital and maternity ward in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said. President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter that there were ‘people, children under the wreckage’ of the hospital and called the strike an ‘atrocity’

The burning wreckage of a car is seen outside a destroyed children's hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week

The burning wreckage of a car is seen outside a destroyed children's hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week

The burning wreckage of a car is seen outside a destroyed children’s hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week

A Ukrainian soldier examines a huge crater caused by one of the Russian rockets, which fell just in front of a hospital building at the maternity hospital in Mariupol 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the strike as 'depraved' and vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the strike as 'depraved' and vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the strike as ‘depraved’ and vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military

Ukrainian citizens are pictured on the outskirts of Mariupol dropping bodies into a mass grave as the city’s inhabitants work to remove the dead amid brutal shelling from Russian troops

Ukraine has rejected most Russian evacuation routes because they lead to Russian soil or that of its ally, Belarus, while routes that Ukraine has proposed have come under bombardment. The only successful evacuation to take place so far has been from Sumy to Poltava (in green)

Local official Pavlo Kyrylenko confirmed the fears in a post on Facebook: The maternity ward in the city centre, the children’s ward and the therapy ward at the hospital – all destroyed in the Russian air raid.’

Just hours before the hospital was hit, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that 3,000 babies were without food or medicines and begged for a humanitarian corridor to allow them to flee. 

Moscow had promised a ceasefire in the city today so civilians could be evacuated, but failed for the fourth time to keep its word – a move Kyrylenko said ‘crossed the line of humanity’ before declaring Russians should ‘stop calling yourselves human beings.’

Residents of Mariupol were pictured on Wednesday dumping bodies into mass graves dug on the outskirts of the city in a desperate attempt to remove the dead amid the sustained Russian bombardment. 

It is not the first time that Russian airstrikes have targeted hospitals. While fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad in Syria in 2016, Putin’s generals were accused of ‘deliberately and systematically’ blowing up hospitals as a way of weakening the city of Aleppo ahead of a ground assault. 

Observers have suggested that Russia is now using a Syria-style battleplan against Ukraine after its early precision strikes failed.

The Ukrainian Healthcare Center, a think-tank based in the country, says that between the outbreak of fighting on February 24 and yesterday, their team documented 42 cases of Russian forces attacking either healthcare facilities or medics in order to deliberately provoke a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

Hospitals had been struck in every theatre where Russian forces were operating, the think-tank said, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv.

‘The humanitarian catastrophe is a part of Russia’s hybrid war. [It] intends to spread panic, create a flow of refugees at the borders and force the Ukrainian government to surrender,’ said Pavlo Kovtonyuk, co-founder of the think-tank.

The bombing took place during what was supposed to be a ceasefire in Mariupol so that civilians could evacuate. It marks the fourth time a so-called ‘humanitarian corridor’ out of the city has failed because Russian forces opened fire. 

The mayor of Izyum, to the east of Kharkiv, said evacuations that were supposed to be underway there yesterday also had to stop because Russians were bombing the escape route. But in Sumy, a short distance away, some civilians had managed to make it out. Successful evacuations also took place in Enerhodar, in the south, with women and children able to leave.

It is feared the evacuations are simply a precursor to Russia stepping up its bombardment of the cities to wear down dogged Ukrainian defenders before rolling in troops and tanks to capture them. CIA Director William Burns, briefing Congress on Putin’s state of mind Tuesday, warned the ‘angry and frustrated’ despot is ‘likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.’ 

Giving an update on the military situation yesterday afternoon, Ukrainian commanders said Russian units continue to try and surround the capital Kyiv with attacks taking place to the west and north-east of the city, with several highways blocked.

New footage released on Wednesday purported to show Russian armour just 13 miles from Kyiv as the invaders pushed through the town of Irpin. 

Fighting also raged close to the city of Sumy in an attempt to surround Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, commanders said. Battles also broke out around the city of Mykolaiv in the south, as Russians attempted to push out from Kherson towards Odessa but were turned back. 

Ukrainian commanders also said Russian military police had rounded up 400 activists protesting against the invasion in the occupied city of Kherson – as the long arm of Vladimir Putin’s police state reached across the border to grab people on foreign soil.  

Russia’s defence ministry meanwhile acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that some conscripts had been sent to fight on the frontlines in Ukraine, just days after Putin promised that only professional soldiers would be sent in. 

Some associations of soldiers’ mothers in Russia had raised concerns about a number of conscripts going incommunicado at the start of what Kremlin calls a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, suggesting they could have been sent to fight despite a lack of adequate training. 

The revelation comes just one week after Russia’s parliament passed a law imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally ‘fake’ news about the military.

‘Unfortunately, we have discovered several facts of the presence of conscripts in units taking part in the special military operation in Ukraine. Practically all such soldiers have been pulled out to Russia,’ the defence ministry said, promising to prevent such situations in the future.

Liz Truss described the hospital attack as ‘absolutely abhorrent’, but continued to reject Ukraine’s request for a no-fly zone to be imposed over its skies.

Speaking in Washington, she said: ‘The best way we can protect the skies is through anti-air weaponry which the UK is now going to be supplying to Ukraine.

‘Of course the attack on the hospital is absolutely abhorrent, reckless and appalling.’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US involvement in a no-fly zone could ‘prolong’ the conflict, making it ‘even deadlier’.

‘Our goal is to end the war, not to expand it, including potentially expanding it to Nato territory,’ he said.

‘We want to make sure it is not prolonged, to the best of our ability. Otherwise, it is going to turn even deadlier, involve more people and I think potentially even make things harder to resolve in Ukraine itself.’

Earlier, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the MPs that the Ministry of Defence was looking at whether they could supply anti-aircraft missiles as well as more anti-tank weapons. 

A baby is evacuated as people flee near a destroyed bridge to cross the Irpin River, on the outskirts of Kyiv, as Russian forces try to surround it in ahead of an attack

A baby is evacuated as people flee near a destroyed bridge to cross the Irpin River, on the outskirts of Kyiv, as Russian forces try to surround it in ahead of an attack

A baby is evacuated as people flee near a destroyed bridge to cross the Irpin River, on the outskirts of Kyiv, as Russian forces try to surround it in ahead of an attack

Ukrainian servicemen evacuate a person across Irpin River below a destroyed bridge as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues

Ukrainian servicemen evacuate a person across Irpin River below a destroyed bridge as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues

Ukrainian servicemen evacuate a person across Irpin River below a destroyed bridge as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces train to operate RPG-7 anti-tank launcher during military exercises in Kyiv

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces train to operate RPG-7 anti-tank launcher during military exercises in Kyiv

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces train to operate RPG-7 anti-tank launcher during military exercises in Kyiv

Recent conscripts into the Ukrainian Territorial Defence are trained to use NLAW anti-tank launchers in Kyiv, as the city prepares to defend itself from a Russian assault

Recent conscripts into the Ukrainian Territorial Defence are trained to use NLAW anti-tank launchers in Kyiv, as the city prepares to defend itself from a Russian assault

Recent conscripts into the Ukrainian Territorial Defence are trained to use NLAW anti-tank launchers in Kyiv, as the city prepares to defend itself from a Russian assault

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces are pictured on training exercises in Kyiv, as Russian troops try to surround the city in preparation for an assault

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces are pictured on training exercises in Kyiv, as Russian troops try to surround the city in preparation for an assault

New members of the Territorial Defence Forces are pictured on training exercises in Kyiv, as Russian troops try to surround the city in preparation for an assault

A satellite image taken on Tuesday but released Wednesday shows the destroyed road bridge on the outskirts of Irpin, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, which refugees have been using to flee the besieged city

A satellite image taken on Tuesday but released Wednesday shows the destroyed road bridge on the outskirts of Irpin, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, which refugees have been using to flee the besieged city

A satellite image taken on Tuesday but released Wednesday shows the destroyed road bridge on the outskirts of Irpin, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, which refugees have been using to flee the besieged city

Tracks created by Russian armoured vehicles are seen in the snow near Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, while heavily damaged buildings are seen to the right of the image

Tracks created by Russian armoured vehicles are seen in the snow near Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, while heavily damaged buildings are seen to the right of the image

Tracks created by Russian armoured vehicles are seen in the snow near Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, while heavily damaged buildings are seen to the right of the image

Putin meets his ‘children’s rights commissioner’ in Moscow as rockets destroy hospital 

Vladimir Putin has met with his ‘children’s rights commissioner’ in Moscow at the same time as shelling a maternity hospital in Mariupol in his latest vile display of hypocrisy.

The Russian leader spoke with Maria Lvova-Belova at the Kremlin today after overseeing a savage two-week campaign in Ukraine which has seen children killed, orphaned or forced to flee their homes.

Putin held the meeting to discuss changes to the law which will allow Russians to adopt Ukrainian orphans, after his forces killed their parents.

 

The changes will mean children from Donetsk and Luhansk who do not have Russian citizenship will qualify for adoption.

Putin said in the meeting: ‘These are extraordinary circumstances and it seems to me that we need to think not about bureaucratic delays, but about the interests of children.

‘I will make proposals, we will change the legislation. We will appeal to the State Duma, I am sure that the deputies will support you.’

Lvova-Belova said 1,090 orphans have been evacuated to Russia from the two republics.

An estimated one million children have been forced to flee Ukraine since the barbaric invasion was launched.

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‘We can all see the horrific devastation inflicted on civilian areas by Russian artillery and air strikes, indiscriminate and murderous,’ he said.

‘It is vital, therefore, that Ukraine maintains its ability to fly and to suppress Russian air attack.’

Mr Wallace said that ‘in response to a Ukrainian request’ the Government was exploring the donation of Starstreak high-velocity man-portable anti-air missiles.

He also confirmed that 3,615 Nlaw anti-tank weapons had been supplied – up from the previously-announced figure of 2,000 – and ‘small consignments’ of the Javelin system would also be sent to Ukraine.

Other Western officials expressed concern that Putin could next resort to the use of ‘non-conventional weapons’ such as chemical weapons, in the conflict. 

One official speaking on condition of anonymity said: ‘I think we’ve got good reason to be concerned about possible use of non-conventional weapons, partly because of what we’ve seen has happened in other theatres.

‘As I’ve mentioned before, for example, what we’ve seen in Syria, partly because we’ve seen a bit of setting the scene for that in the false flag claims that are coming out, and other indications as well.’

Before the rocket attack took place, Mariupol’s deputy mayor spoke about the dire situation in the besieged city – saying residents had been forced to use melted snow as drinking water, as it runs dangerously low on supplies.

Serhiy Orlov admitted that he didn’t know how long the blockaded urban centre would be able to continue under siege as he spoke to CNN’s John Berman about the devastating bombings on Wednesday.

Orlov said today was their fifth attempt to provide a humanitarian corridor to get supplies and transport into Mariupol, but he added that by 3pm local time, the buses had not made it anywhere near the city. 

He said many residents are unable to leave as Mariupol is being bombed ‘each second’, after Russian forces have broken their ceasefire agreement despite agreeing to open ‘humanitarian corridors’ allowing citizens to flee.

‘There is no ceasefire, any ceasefire in Mariupol, Mariupol is under continuous shelling from the artillery and bombing. Each hour, each minute, each second,’ he added.

Mariupol, which has been under blockage for eight days, is one of the Ukrainian cities worst hit since the invasion began, with Russian forces bringing widespread destruction to residential and administrative centres.

Speaking about the devastation across the city, Orlov said Russian forces had destroyed their biggest steel planter as he warned that the situation is ‘unmanageable’.

He praised the bravery of the Ukrainian army, but warned that it is the humanitarian crisis is also worsening, adding: ‘We are not able to protect our lives.’

President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday warned that the port city was running dangerously low on food, water and medicine.

Ukrainian territorial defence forces have been able to deliver vital supplies to some residents, but many more remain isolated and unable to access lifesaving rations.

Reiterating Zelensky’s stark warning, Orlov said there is no more electricity, heating, gas or water supplies in Mariupol, adding that residents have had to resort to collecting wood to make fires for warmth and using melted snow as drinking water.

‘It’s an awful situation and I cannot imagine in my mind that it’s possible in the 21st century, but it is true,’ he said.

When asked how long the city might be able to continue under siege, Orlov admitted he ‘didn’t know’ as he claimed there are at least 3,000 infants who are currently without food.

American talk show host Berman also asked the deputy mayor whether his own family are safe, after he previously spoken about being unable to reach his parents.

In response, a devastated Orlov said the district where his parents lived has been completely destroyed, saying it ‘does not exist anymore’, as he admitted he doesn’t know if they are alive.

He added: ‘The district where they live is flattened and I’m not sure that I can see them anymore. But I hope and pray they are alive.’

Ukrainian commanders said today that Russia’s attack on the country has ‘slowed significantly’ with no major gains in any sector while its forces were  bolstering defenses in key cities and ‘holding the line.’

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces are placing military equipment among residential buildings and on farms, the Ukrainian general staff said. And in the south, it said Russians dressed in civilian clothes are advancing on the city of Mykolaiv. It did not provide any details of new fighting.

In Kyiv, back-to-back air alerts Wednesday morning urged residents to get to bomb shelters as quickly as possible over fears of incoming Russian missiles. Soon after an all-clear was given for the first alert, a second alert followed.

Such alerts are common, though irregular, keeping people on edge. Kyiv has been relatively quiet in recent days, though Russian artillery has pounded the outskirts.

Kyiv regional administration head Oleksiy Kuleba said the crisis for civilians was growing in the capital, with the situation particularly critical in the city’s suburbs.

‘Russia is artificially creating a humanitarian crisis in the Kyiv region, frustrating the evacuation of people and continuing shelling and bombing small communities,’ he said.  

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson continued to resist calls to drop visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the violence, insisting the security checks were vital to prevent President Putin infiltrating agents into the UK.

The Prime Minister said a thousand visas had been granted under the scheme allowing relatives of people in Britain to flee the war zone to join their families and he promised another programme allowing individuals to offer a home to Ukrainians would be set out in ‘the next few days’.

More than 2 million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations.

‘We know how unscrupulous Putin can be in his methods, it would not be right to expose this country to unnecessary security risk and we will not do it,’ he said.

‘We are going to be as generous as we can possibly be, but we must have checks.’

His comments in the Commons followed a call from Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK to temporarily drop the visa requirement.

Vadym Prystaiko hit out at the bureaucracy of the British system, telling MPs: ‘I don’t want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed.’

Buses transport people out of the city of Sumy, in Ukraine's north east, in the first successful evacuation of a besieged city which took place on Tuesday. In total, 5,000 people were transported out

Buses transport people out of the city of Sumy, in Ukraine's north east, in the first successful evacuation of a besieged city which took place on Tuesday. In total, 5,000 people were transported out

Buses transport people out of the city of Sumy, in Ukraine’s north east, in the first successful evacuation of a besieged city which took place on Tuesday. In total, 5,000 people were transported out 

Russia said the evacuation route out of Sumy will be reopened Wednesday to allow more people to flee, though there are fears it could be a pre-cursor to heavier shelling in the coming days

Russia said the evacuation route out of Sumy will be reopened Wednesday to allow more people to flee, though there are fears it could be a pre-cursor to heavier shelling in the coming days

Russia said the evacuation route out of Sumy will be reopened Wednesday to allow more people to flee, though there are fears it could be a pre-cursor to heavier shelling in the coming days

A large number of foreign students - including hundreds from India and east Asia - were among those allowed to flee from Sumy on Tuesday, with more transports planned for today

A large number of foreign students - including hundreds from India and east Asia - were among those allowed to flee from Sumy on Tuesday, with more transports planned for today

A large number of foreign students – including hundreds from India and east Asia – were among those allowed to flee from Sumy on Tuesday, with more transports planned for today

Two convoys of civilian vehicles were allowed to leave Sumy on Tuesday, the mayor has said, marking the first successful evacuation after other routes came under attack by Russia

Two convoys of civilian vehicles were allowed to leave Sumy on Tuesday, the mayor has said, marking the first successful evacuation after other routes came under attack by Russia

Two convoys of civilian vehicles were allowed to leave Sumy on Tuesday, the mayor has said, marking the first successful evacuation after other routes came under attack by Russia

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Debris and houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Debris and houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Debris and houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses damaged by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses damaged by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses damaged by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are seen in Sumy

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Debris is seen next to houses destroyed by shelling, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Sumy

Natasha Sivek carries her two-month-old grandson Meron shortly after she and other family members, including her daughter, walked into Poland

Natasha Sivek carries her two-month-old grandson Meron shortly after she and other family members, including her daughter, walked into Poland

Natasha Sivek carries her two-month-old grandson Meron shortly after she and other family members, including her daughter, walked into Poland

Women and children arrive from war-torn Ukraine on a snowy day at the Medyka border crossing

Women and children arrive from war-torn Ukraine on a snowy day at the Medyka border crossing

Women and children arrive from war-torn Ukraine on a snowy day at the Medyka border crossing 

Over one million people have arrived in Poland from Ukraine since the Russian invasion and some are journeying on to other countries in Europe

Over one million people have arrived in Poland from Ukraine since the Russian invasion and some are journeying on to other countries in Europe

Over one million people have arrived in Poland from Ukraine since the Russian invasion and some are journeying on to other countries in Europe

Most of those fleeing the war have entered countries on Ukraine's western border, like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova

Most of those fleeing the war have entered countries on Ukraine's western border, like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova

Most of those fleeing the war have entered countries on Ukraine’s western border, like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova

The majority have gone into Poland, where 1.33 million refugees have crossed according to the Polish Border Guard agency

The majority have gone into Poland, where 1.33 million refugees have crossed according to the Polish Border Guard agency

The majority have gone into Poland, where 1.33 million refugees have crossed according to the Polish Border Guard agency

Yulia Sivek carries her two-month-old son Meron and is trailed by her mother Natasha as they walk into Poland

Yulia Sivek carries her two-month-old son Meron and is trailed by her mother Natasha as they walk into Poland

Yulia Sivek carries her two-month-old son Meron and is trailed by her mother Natasha as they walk into Poland

Oxana Opalenko holds her friend Yulia's two-month-old son Meron shortly after they walked into Poland

Oxana Opalenko holds her friend Yulia's two-month-old son Meron shortly after they walked into Poland

Oxana Opalenko holds her friend Yulia’s two-month-old son Meron shortly after they walked into Poland

A Russian tank with overhead armour meant to protect against American-made javelin missiles is pictured burned-out by the side of a road in Ukraine, after the makeshift protection apparently failed

A Russian tank with overhead armour meant to protect against American-made javelin missiles is pictured burned-out by the side of a road in Ukraine, after the makeshift protection apparently failed

A Russian tank with overhead armour meant to protect against American-made javelin missiles is pictured burned-out by the side of a road in Ukraine, after the makeshift protection apparently failed

Ukrainian military and civilians inspect a tank abandoned by the side of a road, as Russian continues to suffer losses

Ukrainian military and civilians inspect a tank abandoned by the side of a road, as Russian continues to suffer losses

Ukrainian military and civilians inspect a tank abandoned by the side of a road, as Russian continues to suffer losses

Boris Johnson reveals his ‘deeply upsetting’ conversations with Volodymyr Zelensky over Ukraine’s demands for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone as the PM praises his counterpart as ‘one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times’

Boris Johnson on Thursday revealed conversations with Volodymyr Zelensky about Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone have been ‘deeply upsetting’ but the UK must be ‘realistic’ about the consequences of such a move. 

Mr Johnson said he had discussed the no-fly zone issue with the Ukrainian President ‘at least a couple of times now’ and it is ‘agonising’. 

But the Prime Minister again ruled out sending in UK fighter jets to shut down the skies above Ukraine as he said the world must avoid a conflict between nuclear powers. 

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson also praised Mr Zelensky as he described his counterpart as ‘one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times’. 

Boris Johnson on Thursday revealed conversations with Volodymyr Zelensky about Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone have been 'deeply upsetting' but the UK must be 'realistic' about the consequences of such a move

Boris Johnson on Thursday revealed conversations with Volodymyr Zelensky about Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone have been 'deeply upsetting' but the UK must be 'realistic' about the consequences of such a move

Boris Johnson on Thursday revealed conversations with Volodymyr Zelensky about Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone have been ‘deeply upsetting’ but the UK must be ‘realistic’ about the consequences of such a move

President Zelensky has repeatedly asked NATO nations to enforce a no-fly zone above Ukraine. 

But the UK and other allies have rejected the plea on the grounds it would pit NATO jets directly against Russian jets in a situation which could quickly spiral into a major conflict between Moscow and the West. 

Speaking to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews show, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think any leader in his position would be saying exactly the same thing. 

‘They’d be saying, why can’t you provide that air cover? Why can’t you, as the West, simply help to clear our skies of Russian planes and stop us being bombarded from the air, stop this, this evil going on in Europe? 

‘And you know, we’ve had some very frank conversations and ones in which have been deeply upsetting…’ 

But Mr Johnson said the ‘difficulty’ of enforcing a no-fly zone is that there is a ‘line beyond which… the UK and NATO would be deemed to be in conflict, direct conflict, with Russia’ . 

He said: ‘It’s agonising. It’s absolutely agonising. And I’ve had this conversation at least a couple of times now with Volodymyr, but I think the difficulty is that it will require me to order RAF jets, UK pilots into the air with a mission to shoot down Russian fast jets. 

‘And that is something that – all my life, literally all my life, all my childhood, I remember it’s something that we did everything we possibly could to avert, because that will be conflict between two P5 nuclear powers, two members of the security council.’ 

Mr Johnson also praised Mr Zelensky as he described his counterpart as 'one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times'

Mr Johnson also praised Mr Zelensky as he described his counterpart as 'one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times'

Mr Johnson also praised Mr Zelensky as he described his counterpart as ‘one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times’

He added: ‘I think we’ve got to be realistic and we’re going to do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people, to support the amazing heroic Ukrainian resistance.’ 

Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky have spoken almost every day since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion two weeks ago. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘I think Volodymyr has been one of the most extraordinary leaders of recent times in the way he’s rallied… he’s not only rallied his people. He’s rallied the whole world to the cause of Ukraine.’ 

CIA director Burns says chemical weapon use is ‘part of Russia’s playbook’ and Director of National Intelligence slams Russian nuclear lab propaganda – as Kremlin claims Ukraine is ‘weaponizing birds to drop viruses’

U.S. intelligence chiefs on Thursday denounced what they said was a classic Russian disinformation campaign accusing Washington of backing biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, which they said could set the scene for Russia to launch its own chemical attacks. 

C.I.A. Director Bill Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines both said there was no evidence that Ukraine was developing weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, they joined a chorus of warnings that Moscow could be preparing a fake narrative before it unleashed its own chemical arsenal.

‘I think it underscores the concern that all of us need to focus on those kinds of issues, whether it’s the potential for a use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against Ukrainians,’ Burns told the Senate intelligence committee. 

‘This is something as all of you know very well is very much a part of Russia’s playbook. 

‘They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens. They’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere.

‘So it’s something we take very seriously.’ 

C.I.A. Director Bill Burns on Thursday told senators that the Russian playbook included sowing disinformation and using chemical weapons, amid warnings of a new brutal turn in Ukraine

C.I.A. Director Bill Burns on Thursday told senators that the Russian playbook included sowing disinformation and using chemical weapons, amid warnings of a new brutal turn in Ukraine

C.I.A. Director Bill Burns on Thursday told senators that the Russian playbook included sowing disinformation and using chemical weapons, amid warnings of a new brutal turn in Ukraine

The Kremlin has ratcheted up its disinformation campaign, with officials accusing the U.S. and Ukraine of developing weapons of mass destruction

The Kremlin has ratcheted up its disinformation campaign, with officials accusing the U.S. and Ukraine of developing weapons of mass destruction

The Kremlin has ratcheted up its disinformation campaign, with officials accusing the U.S. and Ukraine of developing weapons of mass destruction

The Ukrainian city of Mariupol remains besieged and subject to military bombardment

The Ukrainian city of Mariupol remains besieged and subject to military bombardment

The Ukrainian city of Mariupol remains besieged and subject to military bombardment

Concerns flared a day earlier, when Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed, without evidence, that Ukraine was running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support. 

The claims are not new, but have circulated as debunked conspiracy theories that have been spread by the likes of QAnon-linked websites.

On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that it had uncovered U.S. and Ukrainian plans to spread flu with birds.

‘At least two species of migratory birds were identified, the routes of which pass mainly through Russia, and information on migration routes through the countries of Eastern Europe was also summarized,’ it said in a release.

It comes as military analysts have warned that the war could take a brutal turn as Putin switches tactics after his forces failed to make the rapid breakthrough he expected.

Haines said there was no evidence at all that Ukraine was embarked on producing weapons of mass destruction.

‘I … want to be absolutely clear that we do not believe that Ukraine is pursuing biological or nuclear weapons, that we’ve seen no evidence of that,’ she said.

‘And frankly, this influence campaign is completely consistent with long-standing Russian efforts to accuse the United States of sponsoring bio weapons work in former Soviet Union. 

‘So this is a classic move by the Russians.’ 

Analysts believe the Russian assault on Kyiv is now underway, as troops massed in both the west and east try to push into the city limits - with missions also underway to surround the capital from the south west

Analysts believe the Russian assault on Kyiv is now underway, as troops massed in both the west and east try to push into the city limits - with missions also underway to surround the capital from the south west

Analysts believe the Russian assault on Kyiv is now underway, as troops massed in both the west and east try to push into the city limits – with missions also underway to surround the capital from the south west

A destroyed Russian tank is seen abandoned by the side of the road in Brovary, to the east of Kyiv, as Putin's men try to push into the outskirts of the capital

A destroyed Russian tank is seen abandoned by the side of the road in Brovary, to the east of Kyiv, as Putin's men try to push into the outskirts of the capital

A destroyed Russian tank is seen abandoned by the side of the road in Brovary, to the east of Kyiv, as Putin’s men try to push into the outskirts of the capital

The attack on Brovary (pictured) came as Russian troops also attacked in Irpin, to the west, though they made 'little progress' with a Ukrainian counter-attack underway in the early hours

The attack on Brovary (pictured) came as Russian troops also attacked in Irpin, to the west, though they made 'little progress' with a Ukrainian counter-attack underway in the early hours

The attack on Brovary (pictured) came as Russian troops also attacked in Irpin, to the west, though they made ‘little progress’ with a Ukrainian counter-attack underway in the early hours

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines appeared alongside Burns at a hearing of the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines appeared alongside Burns at a hearing of the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines appeared alongside Burns at a hearing of the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday

World leaders have expressed their concern that Russia is preparing to deploy chemical weapons. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview with Sky News: ‘The stuff that you’re hearing about chemical weapons, this is straight out of their playbook.

‘They start saying that there are chemical weapons that have been stored by their opponents or by the Americans, and so when they themselves deploy chemical weapons, as I fear they may, they have a sort of … fake story, ready to go.’

Instead, Russia has form when it comes to chemical agents. 

Russia used the deadly Novichok poison in 2018 an attempt to assassinate a defector living in Salisbury, England. 

And it is suspected of using a similar poison against opposition leader Navalny in 2020.   

Moscow has also offered diplomatic cover to Syrian use of chemical agents, for example accusing the West of being behind the 2017 attack on Khan Shaykhun with Sarin or similar nerve agent. 

Officials have been quick to denounce any attempt by Russia to create a pretext for their own attacks.

And as he gave evidence, Burns said this was a crucial piece of work. 

‘It’s one of the reasons, as Director Haines said earlier, that I am convinced that our efforts at selective declassification to preempt those kinds of false flag efforts in the creation of false narratives have been so important,’ said Burns, who was Washington’s ambassador to Moscow from 2005 to 2008.

‘In all the years I spent as a career diplomat, I saw too many instances in which we lost information wars with the Russians. 

‘In this case, I think we have had a great deal of effect in disrupting their tactics and their calculations and demonstrating to the entire world that this is a premeditated and unprovoked aggression, built on a body of lies and false narratives.’

Burns also said that Chinse leader Xi Jinping was likely to be ‘unsettled’ by the way the war was unfolding and that its ugly nature risked guilt by association.

‘President Xi is probably a little bit unsettled as he watches the way in which President Putin has driven Americans and Europeans more closely together and strengthen the Transatlantic alliance in ways that would have been a little bit hard to imagine before the invasion began,’ he said.

A day earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the world should be ‘on the lookout’ for Russian use of chemical and biological weaponry. 

‘It’s Russia that has a long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons, including in attempted assassinations and poisoning of Putin’s political enemies like Alexey Navalny,’ she said.

Source: DailyMail

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