Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that Russia had bombed a school sheltering 400 people in the besieged port of Mariupol, as Moscow claimed that it had again fired hypersonic missiles in Ukraine, the second time it had used the next-generation weapon on its neighbour.
Turkey said that the two sides were close to a deal to stop the fighting, amid reports of more civilians being killed in strikes across the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the siege of Mariupol, a strategic mostly Russian-speaking port in the southeast where utilities and communications have been cut for days, would go down as a war crime.
“Our cities have turned into multi-storey ruins, every area is like a horror movie,” Sergiy Gaiday, head of the Lugansk regional administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The war in Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin launched on Feb 24 to stamp out the pro-Western leanings in the ex-Soviet country, has sparked the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, felled Russia-West relations to Cold War-era lows, and is wreaking havoc in the world economy still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Madman of a leader’
“Yesterday, the Russian occupiers dropped bombs on art school No 12,” the Mariupol city council said on Telegram on Sunday, adding that around 400 women, children and elderly people had been sheltering there from bombardments.
“Peaceful civilians are still under the rubble,” it said, adding that the building had been destroyed.
City authorities also claimed that some residents of Mariupol were being forcibly taken to Russia and stripped of their Ukrainian passports.
“The occupiers are sending the residents of Mariupol to filtration camps, checking their phones and seizing (their) Ukrainian documents,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration said, adding that more than 1,000 Mariupol residents had been deported.
“I appeal to the international community: put pressure on Russia and its madman of a leader,” he said on Facebook.
In the encircled northern city of Chernigiv, Mayor Vladislav Atroshenko said on television early Sunday that dozens of civilians were killed after shelling hit a hospital, adding that the city was “suffering from an absolute humanitarian catastrophe.”
Hypersonic missile used again
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday that Moscow had again fired its newest Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile, destroying a fuel storage site in the southern Mykolaiv region.
The strike would mark the second time the sophisticated weapon was used in combat, a day after Russia said it used it to destroy an underground arms storage site in western Ukraine close to the border with Nato member Romania.
Humanitarian conditions continued to deteriorate in the mostly Russian-speaking south and east of the country, where Russian forces have been pressing their advance, as well as in the north around the capital Kyiv.
Aid agencies have warned they are struggling to reach hundreds of thousands of people trapped by the invading Russian forces.
The port of Mariupol has been one of the worst hit cities as it occupies a key strategic position – its capture would link the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, with the separatist eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which broke away the same year and are controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.
Thousands of civilians are thought to be trapped inside the city, where communication, water, electricity and gas have been cut. Russia said on Saturday it had broken through the city’s defences and its troops were inside.
Last Wednesday, a theatre where more than 1,000 people had sheltered, was hit, with hundreds still presumed missing in the rubble.
“This is no longer Mariupol, it’s hell,” said resident Tamara Kavunenko, 58. “The streets are full with the bodies of civilians.”
In his daily video message, Zelensky said that the Mariupol siege “is a terror that will be remembered even in the next century.”
The Ukrainian president, who has gained world-wide fame and admiration for staying in his capital in the face of the Russian advance, warned the Russian people that some 14,000 of their servicemen had been killed.
“And (the number of) victims will only continue to rise,” he warned.
The latest toll provided by Russia in early March said nearly 500 servicemen had been killed. The latest toll provided by Ukraine on March 12 said some 1,300 Ukrainian troops had died.
Ukraine has not been providing a civilian toll, except for children, at least 115 of whom have died since the start of the war, according to figures released on Sunday.
Zelensky, a former actor and comedian, has become the first national leader to lead a fully-fledged information front on social media during a war, posting daily video messages – often selfies – on various platforms.
Ukraine’s outmanned and outgunned military has put up an unexpected and fierce resistance that has slowed Russia’s advance, stalling its forces outside the capital Kyiv and several other cities, making Moscow’s supply lines vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.
10 million flee homes
Aid agencies are struggling to reach people trapped in cities ringed by Russian forces where the UN says the situation is “dire.”
Some 10 million people inside Ukraine have fled their homes to escape the fighting, the head of the UN refugee agency said on Sunday.
More than 3.3 million of them have fled abroad, sparking Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, while a further estimated 6.5 million have been displaced inside the country, according to the UN.
Turkey says deal is close
Turkey, which has tried to position itself as a mediator in the war because of strong ties to both Russia and Ukraine, said on Sunday the two sides were getting close to a deal in their ongoing talks to stop the war.
“We see that the parties are close to an agreement,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
In an interview with daily Hurriyet, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the sides were negotiating six points: Ukraine’s neutrality, disarmament and security guarantees, so-called “de-Nazification”, and the status of the Russian language, the breakaway Donbass region and annexed Crimea.
Economic effects to last ‘for months’
Russia’s war has been widely condemned across the globe and has sparked an unprecedented wave of Western sanctions against the country, both against Putin and his entourage and Russian companies.
Western businesses from oil companies to fast food franchises have either pulled out or halted operations in Russia, the assets of Russia’s Central Bank held abroad have been frozen and many Russian banks have been cut off from the Swift system that enables inter-bank transactions.
The war has sparked turmoil for the world economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia is a major exporter of oil, gas and commodities, while Ukraine also is a major supplier of wheat.
As a result, commodity prices have rocketed on supply fears, fuelling inflation that was already at multi-decade highs, the chief economist with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development told AFP.
“Even if the war stopped today, the consequences of this conflict would be felt for months to come,” Beata Javorcik said.