Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers surrender in Mariupol -Moscow
Russia’s defence ministry said Wednesday that more than a thousand Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered in Mariupol, a strategic port city in eastern Ukraine that has been besieged by Moscow’s troops for over a month.
“In the city of Mariupol… 1,026 Ukrainian servicemen of the 36th marine brigade voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said that the soldiers surrendered near the “Mariupol Metallurgical Plant named after Illich”, a large steel factory.
Among the troops were 162 officers and 47 were women, the ministry noted, adding that more than 100 were wounded. Russia is believed to be trying to connect occupied Crimea and Moscow-backed separatist territories Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas and has laid siege to Mariupol at the start of its military operation.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have died in the city, which has seen some of the most intense fightings in the conflict.
– Biden accuses Putin’s forces of ‘genocide’ in Ukraine –
US President Joe Biden has for the first time accused Vladimir Putin’s forces of committing genocide in Ukraine, where Russia is intensifying its campaign to take the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Biden’s accusation comes as Moscow – already accused by the West of widespread atrocities against civilians – is feared to be readying a massive onslaught across Ukraine’s east that Washington warned might involve chemical weapons.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday, hours after employing the term during a speech in Iowa – its first use by a member of his administration.
“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me,” Biden said.
“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky – who has repeatedly accused Moscow of attempted “genocide” – swiftly responded by tweeting at Biden, “True words of a true leader.”
“Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil,” Zelensky wrote – renewing his appeal for more heavy weapons to “prevent further Russian atrocities”. Biden had previously described Putin as a “war criminal” as the discovery of hundreds of civilians reportedly killed in Bucha, outside Kyiv, sparked global revulsion.
But he had stopped short of using the term “genocide” in line with longstanding US protocol, because of its strict legal definition and the heavy implication the accusation carries.
– Tunnel warriors –
While the toll on towns occupied during the month-long offensive to take Kyiv like Bucha is still coming to light, the heaviest civilian toll is feared to be in Mariupol, where Zelensky said he believed Russia had killed “tens of thousands”.
Moscow is believed to be trying to connect occupied Crimea with Russian-backed separatist territories Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas and has laid siege to the strategically located city.
Experts say its fall is inevitable, but as the fighting drags toward its seventh week, the Ukrainian army is still clinging on.
On Wednesday, the Land Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram that airstrikes on the city continued, particularly targeting its port and the huge Azovstal iron and steelworks.
The latter maze-like complex has been a focus of urban resistance in Mariupol, with fighters using a tunnel system below the vast industrial site to slow Russian forces down.
“It’s a city within a city,” said Eduard Basurin, a representative for pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk region.
“There are several underground levels that date back to Soviet times which you can’t bombard from above. You have to go underground to clean them out, and that will take time.”
Above ground, AFP journalists in Mariupol as part of a Russian military embed saw the charred remains of the city, including the theatre where 300 people were feared killed in a Russian bombardment last month.
Reports emerged on Monday from Ukraine’s Azov battalion that a Russian drone had dropped a “poisonous substance” in the area, with people experiencing respiratory failure and neurological problems.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was unable to confirm the allegations, but that Washington had “credible information” Russia might use tear gas mixed with chemical agents in the besieged port.
The world’s chemical weapons watchdog said it was “concerned” by the unconfirmed reports coming from Mariupol, and was “monitoring closely”. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby warned the use of such weapons by Moscow would “elicit a response not just from the United States, but from the international community”, without elaborating.