Russia-Ukraine war: 21,000 civilians killed, mayor of Mariupol estimates

Putin and Lukashenko meet • Russian assault on Mariupol continues, at least 10,000 killed • 9 humanitarian corridors opened

 AN AERIAL PHOTO taken from a drone on Sunday shows destroyed residential buildings in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.  (photo credit: PAVEL KLIMOV/REUTERS)
AN AERIAL PHOTO taken from a drone on Sunday shows destroyed residential buildings in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
(photo credit: PAVEL KLIMOV/REUTERS)

Tens of thousands killed in Mariupol

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Russia's assault on the southeastern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday.

"Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead. But even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive," Zelensky said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers.

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol said on Tuesday the latest estimate was that about 21,000 civilian residents of the port city had been killed since the start of Russia's invasion.

In televised comments, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said it had been difficult to calculate the exact number of casualties since street fighting had started.

"Residents of Mariupol are not being allowed to leave the city in their own cars," Ukraine's governor of the Donetsk region said.

Poisonous substance allegedly used in Mariupol

A soldier from the Azov Brigade posted on Telegram what he had witnessed in the besieged city, supporting allegations that chemical substances were used in Mariupol. 

"The victims of the poisonous substance spreading of unknown origin in the city of Mariupol are in a relatively satisfactory condition," he wrote. "Contact of the civilians with the substance was minimal, the epicenter was some distance from the civilian's location. The military was a little bit closer. However, it is impossible to investigate the scene of crime due to the enemy fire, because the Russians continue using the tactics of concealing their own crimes."

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In Mariupol, one soldier was in moderate condition, and two others were under constant medical supervision, one of whom was an elderly woman in serious condition. The main symptoms they experienced were facial hyperemia (increased blood flow), high blood pressure, and dryness and inflammation of the fauces (the arched opening at the back of the mouth) and mucous membranes of the eyes. 

 Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/ VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/ VIA REUTERS)

"It is clear now that the enemy has used the poisonous substances or potent poisonous substances, mainly the suffocating ones," the soldier wrote. "However, due to a complete blockade, toxicological analysis is impossible. At the same time, the main task is the control of the personnel's condition and of the possible consequences of poisoning."

Ukraine is investigating the incident, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in televised comments on Tuesday.

"There is a theory that these could be phosphorus munitions," Malyar said. "Official information will come later."

Whether the use of phosphorous munitions is considered a war crime depends on how it is used. This debate arose surrounding the alleged use of white phosphorus by US troops in Iraq. The spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at the time said in 2005:

"White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement. If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the [Chemical Weapons] Convention legitimate use," he said.

"If, on the other hand, the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that, of course, is prohibited. Because of the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Junior Defense Minister James Heappey commented on the report.

"Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the people of Mariupol," Truss wrote on Twitter. "We are working urgently with partners to verify the details. Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account."

"There are some things that are beyond the pale, and the use of chemical weapons will get a response and all options are on the table for what that response could be," Heappey told Sky News.

"If chemical weapons have been used, that is a very important moment for our prime minister and other heads of government around the world to consider how we would respond to that," the defense minister told BBC TV.

"(Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin should be clear that the use of chemical weapons is simply not acceptable and he shouldn't expect the West to stand by if they were used."

Asked on LBC Radio whether he could rule out deploying British or NATO troops on Ukrainian soil, Heappey said: "No, all options are on the table."

Eduard Basurin, a separatist commander, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday that the allegations were false, and that Russian-backed separatist forces did not use chemical weapons in their attempts to take full control of the city of Mariupol. 

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is concerned by the recent unconfirmed report of chemical weapons use in Mariupol in Ukraine, an OPCW spokesperson said on Tuesday.

"The (...) OPCW is monitoring closely the situation in Ukraine," he added.

The OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog also said it had "uninterruptedly been monitoring the situation around declared chemical industrial sites" in Ukraine, which has been under attack by Russia since the end of February.

The United States is not in a position to confirm reports of the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine but was working to determine what actually happened, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

"We're in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually has happened," Blinken told reporters, adding that it had been a focus of concern even before Russia moved its troops into Ukraine.

A senior U.S. defense official on Tuesday said much the same thing about Mariupol, adding that the United States had no information to support the movement of chemical agents by Russia in or near Ukraine.

Japan concerned about possible nuclear arms use by Russia

The Japanese government is concerned about the possible use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine crisis, the government's top spokesman said on Tuesday.

"We are seriously concerned about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons during Russia's invasion of Ukraine," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference.

"We, as a sole country that has suffered nuclear attacks during the war, intend to keep on appealing firmly that any threat of the use of nuclear weapons, let alone their actual use, should never be allowed."

Fighting will intensify - UK intelligence

Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there, the UK's Ministry of Defense tweeted in a regular bulletin on Tuesday.

Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push towards Kramatorsk, British military intelligence said.

The report also said that Russian forces continue to withdraw from Belarus in order to redeploy in support of operations in eastern Ukraine.

Nine humanitarian corridors open 

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that nine humanitarian corridors had been agreed for Tuesday to evacuate civilians, including from the besieged city of Mariupol by private cars.

Vereshchuk said in a statement that five of the nine evacuation corridors were from Ukraine's Luhansk region in the east of the country, which Ukrainian officials have said is under heavy shelling.

A total of 4,354 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Monday, including 556 from Mariupol, she said.

Putin and Lukashenko meet

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Western sanctions, news agencies in the two countries reported. Belarus is a key staging area for Russian forces.

Lukashenko arrived early on Tuesday in the Amur region in the Russian Far East where he is to meet Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport, Belarusian Belta news agency reported.