Ukraine's Zelensky will take part virtually in NATO summit

902 civilians have been killed, 1,459 wounded so far in Ukraine war • 3,528,346 Ukrainians fled abroad • The war is 'absurd', UN secretary-general says

 General view of the remains of the drama theatre which was hit by a bomb when hundreds of people were sheltering inside, amid ongoing Russia's invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 18, 2022. (photo credit: Azov Handout/ via REUTERS)
General view of the remains of the drama theatre which was hit by a bomb when hundreds of people were sheltering inside, amid ongoing Russia's invasion, in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 18, 2022.
(photo credit: Azov Handout/ via REUTERS)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will take part virtually in a NATO summit on Thursday to discuss the war with Russia, but exact details are still being worked out, Interfax Ukraine cited Zelenskiy's press spokesman as saying on Tuesday.

The spokesman, Sergii Nykyforov, said that at a minimum, Zelenskiy would make a video address to the meeting and might take part in the full discussion, Interfax said.

Ukraine's president said on Tuesday there was "nothing left" of the city of Mariupol after weeks of Russian bombardment, and Kyiv appealed to Moscow to allow the evacuation of at least 100,000 people who want to leave.

Ukraine has issued increasingly dire warnings about the situation in the encircled southern port city, where officials say residents are without food, medicine, power or running water. Read full story

Officials said 300,000 civilians were also running out of food in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, highlighting what an international aid official said was the breakdown of Ukraine's humanitarian system.

"There is nothing left there. Only ruins," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said of Mariupol, which has a peacetime population of 400,000, in a video address to the Italian parliament.

As he was speaking, the city council said Russian forces had dropped two large bombs on Mariupol but gave no details of casualties or damage. Reuters could not independently verify the report. Russia did not immediately comment on it.

"Once again it is clear that the occupiers are not interested in the city of Mariupol. They want to level it to the ground and make it the ashes of a dead land," the council said.Read full story

Russia denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to establish safe passage for civilians out of Mariupol. Ukraine defied an ultimatum for the city to surrender by dawn on Monday as a condition for Russian forces to let civilians leave safely.

"We demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television.

She later added: "There are at least 100,000 people who want to leave Mariupol but cannot."

Vereshchuk said that unless a safe corridor was created and buses were allowed in to evacuate them, they would have to walk from 10 to 20 km (six to 12 miles) to reach relative safety - a risky journey if there is no ceasefire.

She and other Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were also preventing humanitarian supplies reaching civilians in Kherson, a city they control.

"Kherson’s 300k citizens face a humanitarian catastrophe owing to the Russian army’s blockade. Food and medical supplies have almost run out, yet Russia refuses to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians," foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

Russia did not immediately comment on the situation in Kherson.

Steve Gordon, humanitarian response adviser at international aid agency Mercy Corps, expressed concern about the vulnerability of supply chains in Ukraine.

"We know that most municipalities in areas seeing the most intense fighting don’t have more than 3-4 days worth of essentials like food," Gordon, who is in Ukraine, said in a statement issued by Mercy Corps.

"The reality is that right now the humanitarian system is entirely broken down."

Only a few thousand civilians have managed to flee Mariupol, including a convoy of cars witnessed by Mercy Corps.

"Some have belongings strapped to the roof but many have nothing and you can tell people had to leave everything behind," Gordon said.

More deaths as war rages on

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says 902 civilians have been killed and another 1,459 have been wounded so far in the war in Ukraine. The office warned that the actual number is likely "considerably higher."

Those casualties occurred between February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Saturday at midnight local time, as Russia's military continued bombing and assaulting cities.

The number of Ukrainians fleeing abroad is now 3,528,346, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday, with more than two million crossing the border into Poland.

A Russian tank shot down a car in Kharkiv with a family with two children on board on Tuesday, killing two adults and a child.

In Sumy, Russian forces fired at pensioners who were riding bicycles to the hospital. A 59-year-old woman was killed and her husband was injured.

Rocket strikes destroyed a railway station in Ukraine's central-eastern Dnipro region, killing one person and damaging rails enough to prevent train passage indefinitely, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

The rockets hit a station of the town of Pavlohrad around 60 km east of the regional capital Dnipro.

One of Russia's main priorities is to take control of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv but trying to do so is "suicide," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a televised interview on Tuesday.

He also said active hostilities between Ukraine and Russia could end within 2-3 weeks.

Boryspil concerns

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Boryspil, which is close to Boryspil International Airport, advised civilians on Tuesday to leave the city if they can because of fighting nearby.

Mayor Volodymyr Borysenko said in a video address that there was fighting in the Kyiv region where Boryspil is located.

"There is no need to be in the city now as there is already fighting going on in the area around it. I call on the civilian population to be smart, reach out to our call center and leave town as soon as an opportunity arises," he said.

Nuclear war unlikely, says Russia

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened, Tass news agency reported.

The comment, nearly four weeks after Russia sent its forces into Ukraine, came amid Western concern that the conflict there could escalate into a nuclear war.

Tass did not provide further detail.

President Vladimir Putin last month ordered Russia's nuclear forces to be put on high alert. In line with the order, Russia's defense ministry said on Feb. 28 that its nuclear missile forces and Northern and Pacific fleets had been placed on enhanced combat duty, the Interfax news agency reported.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on March 14: "The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility."

UN Secretary-General urges end to "absurd war"

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged an end to the "absurd war" started by Russia's invasion of Ukraine a month ago, warning that the conflict is "going nowhere, fast" and that the Ukrainian people are "enduring a living hell."

"Continuing the war in Ukraine is morally unacceptable, politically indefensible and militarily nonsensical," Guterres told reporters in New York.

"Even if Mariupol falls, Ukraine cannot be conquered city by city, street by street, house by house," Guterres said. "This war is unwinnable. Sooner or later, it will have to move from the battlefield to the peace table."

"It is time to end this absurd war," he said.

Guterres said some 10 million Ukrainians have fled from their homes and warned the reverberations of war were being felt globally "with skyrocketing food, energy and fertilizer prices threatening to spiral into a global hunger crisis."

"There is enough on the table to cease hostilities - now ... and seriously negotiate - now," Guterres said.