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Footage has emerged of civilians weaving their way through streets littered with dead bodies and piles of debris as they desperately attempt to escape from the decimated city of Mariupol.
The video, shot by a fleeing passenger in what appeared to be a small van, showed apocalyptic scenes from the port city, which has ultimately been reduced to rubble after weeks of brutal Russian bombing.
Several corpses were seen sprawled in the middle of the road as the van swerved around chunks of rock, twisted pieces of metal and abandoned cars along what is believed to be Budivelnykiv Avenue in western Mariupol.
The chilling video was taken in a part of the city which just one month ago was a flourishing cultural and educational centre.
Budivelnykiv Avenue runs alongside a swathe of lush green parkland home to Mariupol’s State University, which prior to the war offered a variety of humanitarian and cultural programmes focused on training students for careers in international relations, as well as the Meotida Greek cultural centre and a host of burgeoning bars, restaurants and Freedom Square.
Now, all that remains are mounds of smouldering debris, destroyed businesses and dead civilians.
The chilling video comes as Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian troops are forcibly deporting Ukrainians en-masse from the city’s ruins to ‘filtration camps’ and then into Russia, as they begged for humanitarian teams to be given access to the besieged city.
Up to 15,000 civilians have been forcibly deported from the Left Bank area of Mariupol since it was captured by Russian troops, local authorities said on Thursday, as they warned an estimated 100,000 people who remain face a desperate plight without food, water or electricity.
Ukraine’s security services claimed to have identified one ‘filtration camp’ that had been established in the city of Dokuchaevsk, in the Donetsk region, and alleged Russian FSB officers were working to sort through the deported civilians to identify anyone with links to the Ukrainian emergency services or military.
Those picked out by the FSB are being send to remote regions in Russia – particularly Sakhalin, an island off the north coast of Japan – where they are forced to sign papers confining them to the region for at least the next two years, security services say.
Video released by Chechen special forces soldiers meanwhile claimed to show fierce fighting in the streets of Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops under siege for almost a month are desperately trying to hold the city.
Fresh images from on the ground have further revealed the scale of the devastation wrought on the city by Putin’s indiscriminate bombardments.
Several corpses were seen sprawled out in the middle of the road as the van swerved around chunks of rock, twisted pieces of metal and abandoned cars along Budivelnykiv Avenue in western Mariupol
The video, shot by a fleeing passenger in what appeared to be a small van, showed truly apocalyptic scenes from the port city, which has for weeks endured brutal Russian bombing campaigns and has ultimately been reduced to rubble
A mother covers her son as they lay on a ground after hearing shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine March 23, 2022
Buses used to block routes into the city of Mariupol stand ruined after the city was attacked by Russian forces surrounding it
A line of buses placed by Ukrainian Azov Battalion defenders to impede the advance of Russian troops are seen burned-out in front of a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol
Russian tanks marked with the ‘Z’ symbol are seen rolling into the outskirts of Mariupol from the occupied Donbass region, as the city continues to come under attack
A woman wipes away her tears as she tells of the trauma of the last few weeks outside her destroyed home in Mariupol
An unexploded hand grenade sits on the floor next to a burned-out infantry vehicle and a destroyed apartment block after weeks of heavy fighting in Mariupol
A naval mine probably set by the Azov Battalion as a trap for advancing Russian forces (front right) lies undetonated in front of the ruins of an apartment block in Mariupol
Though Russian attacks have met with limited success elsewhere, Mariupol was fully surrounded early on during the fighting and has been attempting to hold out ever since.
Russia is now thought to be focusing it efforts on capturing the city, which would provide it with a ‘land corridor’ between rebel-held areas of the eastern Donbass region and occupied Crimea – believed to be one of Putin’s key strategic goals ahead of giving the order to invade.
In order to capture the city, Russian forces have been indiscriminately shelling it for weeks – leaving an estimated 90 per cent of buildings damaged despite hundreds of thousands of innocent people being trapped there.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told a video briefing today that Ukrainian authorities were continuing efforts to secure agreement from Russia to open a safe corridor to and from Mariupol, but said that Russia had been blocking the evacuation of civilians this morning.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address to Italy’s parliament on Tuesday that there was ‘nothing left’ in Mariupol after weeks of Russian bombardment.
A Reuters team that reached a Russian-controlled part of Mariupol on Sunday described a wasteland of charred apartment blocks and bodies wrapped in blankets lying by a road.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that agreement between the Russian and Ukrainian armies was needed before civilians could be evacuated properly from Ukraine.
‘We think we are confronted with a very complex frontline at the present moment in Ukraine which sees a lot of people trapped and people caught people in between frontlines,’ Red Cross chief Peter Maurer told a news conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
‘It’s not possible to think about access or evacuation, either in Mariupol or another place, if we don’t have a solid and detailed agreement between the militaries on the ground.’
NATO estimated on Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine, where fierce resistance from the country’s defenders has denied Moscow the lightning victory it sought.
By way of comparison, Russia lost about 15,000 troops over 10 years in Afghanistan.
A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released – intentionally or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.
Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the West has not given an estimate, but Zelensky said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed.
When Russia unleashed its invasion Feb. 24 in Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II, a swift toppling of Ukraine’s government seemed likely. But with Wednesday marking four full weeks of fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a grinding military campaign.
Zelensky – who has riveted the world’s attention with ad hoc videos and speeches to legislatures seeking military aid for his country – seized on the anniversary to plead for people around the world to gather in public Thursday to show support for Ukraine, saying the war breaks the heart of ‘every free person on the planet.’
Dazed and covered in dried blood, a man stares at the camera as he walks out of the ruins of the city of Mariupol, Ukraine
Men emerge to procure supplies in their still burning neighbourhood in the city of Mariupol, southern Ukraine
With a cardboard sign reading ‘Volodarsk’, two young men attempt to hitchhike from the ruins of Mariupol to Russia
A family prepare to cook over an open fire outside their destroyed home in the embattled port city of Mariupol
‘Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,’ Zelensky said in English during an emotional video address to the nation, recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. ‘Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.’
Speaking in Russian, Zelensky appealed to Russians ‘to leave Russia so as not to give your tax money to the war.’ Tens of thousands of Russians already have fled their country since the war began, fearing an intensifying crackdown on dissent that has included the arrest of thousands of antiwar protesters and suppression of the media.
Zelensky, who will speak to NATO members by video on Thursday, also said he is asking the alliance to provide ‘effective and unrestricted’ support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion.
With its ground forces slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya.
A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) outside Kyiv, the capital, as they make little to no progress toward the city center.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said it appears the forces are no longer trying to advance into the city, and in some areas east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian soldiers farther away.
Instead, Russian troops appear to be prioritizing the fight in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the Donbas, in what could be an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities, the official said. The U.S. also has seen activity from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov, including what appear to be efforts to send landing ships ashore with supplies, including vehicles, the official said.
In an ominous sign that Moscow might consider using nuclear weapons, a senior Russian official said the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.
‘The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any aggressor group within minutes at any distance,’ Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the state aerospace corporation, Roscosmos, said in televised remarks. He noted that Moscow’s nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields, along with far more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Roscosmos oversees missile-building facilities.
U.S. officials long have warned that Russia’s military doctrine envisages an ‘escalate to deescalate’ option of using battlefield nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down in a situation when Russian forces face imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.
Rogozin is known for his bluster, and he did not make clear what actions by the West would be seen as meddling, but his comments almost certainly reflect thinking inside the Kremlin. Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw it into a conflict with Russia. Western nations have said they would not create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.
As U.S. President Joe Biden left for Europe to meet with key allies about new sanctions against Moscow and more military aid to Ukraine, he warned there is a ‘real threat’ Russia could use chemical weapons.
On the eve of a meeting with Biden, European Union nations signed off on another 500 million euros ($550 million) in military aid for Ukraine.
A destroyed tank likely belonging to Russia or pro-Russian forces lies amidst rubble in the north of the ruined city of Mariupol
A tank destroyed in fighting during Ukraine-Russia conflict is seen in front of a residential building, in the port city of Mariupol
People walks past a tank destroyed in fighting during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol
A man looks at a burned-out car as he walks past a destroyed apartment building during shelling on the city of Kharkiv
Zelensky appealed to Western countries to stay united in the face of Russia’s efforts to ‘lobby its interests’ with ‘some partners’ to bring them over to its side, and noted during his national address that Ukraine has not received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.
‘It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,’ he said.
The U.S. has determined that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine, and it will work to prosecute the offenders, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. He cited evidence of indiscriminate or deliberate attacks against civilians and the destruction of apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, shopping centers and other sites.
Still, major Russian objectives remain unfulfilled, including in Kyiv, where near-constant shelling and gunfire shook the city Wednesday as the two sides battled for control of multiple suburbs. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed in the capital since the war broke out.
The shelling also claimed the life of another journalist Wednesday. The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina had been killed in a Kyiv neighborhood.
In the south, the encircled port city of Mariupol has seen the worst devastation of the war, enduring weeks of bombardment and, now, street-by-street fighting. But Ukrainian forces have prevented its fall, thwarting an apparent bid by Moscow to fully secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelensky said 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which had 430,000 people before the war. Efforts to get desperately needed food and other supplies to those trapped have often failed.
Zelensky accused Russian forces of seizing a humanitarian convoy. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians were holding captive 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles.
In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is probably much higher. Airstrikes in the past week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians were sheltering.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge that was used for aid deliveries and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Kateryna Mytkevich, who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped away tears as she spoke about what she had seen. The city is without gas, electricity or running water, said Mytkevich, 39, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed.
‘I don’t understand why we have such a curse,’ she said.
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going ‘strictly in accordance’ with plans.
The NATO official said 30,000 to 40,000 Russian soldiers are estimated to have been killed or wounded. In its last update, Russia said March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded.
Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.
The figures from NATO represent the alliance’s first public estimate of Russian casualties since the war began. The U.S. government has largely declined to provide estimates of Russian or Ukrainian casualties, saying available information is of questionable reliability.