Putin escalates attack on Mariupol in bid to break Ukraine's resistance

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in the besieged city as Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv have also been hit hard

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Russian troops have failed to capture any major Ukrainian city more than four weeks into their invasion, and increasingly are resorting to causing massive destruction to residential areas using air strikes, long-range missiles and artillery.

The southern port of Mariupol has become a focal point of Russia's assault and lies largely in ruins with bodies lying on the streets, but attacks were also reported to have intensified on the second city Kharkiv on Monday.

The conflict has driven almost a quarter of Ukraine's 44 million people from their homes, and Germany predicted the refugee number could reach as high as 10 million in coming weeks.

Ukraine on Monday rejected a Russian demand to stop defending besieged Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering through Russian bombardments laying waste to their city.

Smoke rises around an industrial compound after multiple explosions, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, in this screengrab from a video released on March 22, 2022. AZOV/Handout via REUTERS
Smoke rises around an industrial compound after multiple explosions, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, in this screengrab from a video released on March 22, 2022. AZOV/Handout via REUTERS

A part of Mariupol now held by Russian forces was an eerie wasteland. Several bodies lay by the road, wrapped in blankets. Windows were blasted out and walls were charred black. People who came out of basements sat on benches amid the debris, bundled up in coats.

Some, though, have managed to escape. About 8,000 were safely evacuated on Monday through seven humanitarian corridors from towns and cities under fire, including about 3,000 from Mariupol, Ukraine's deputy prime minister said.

Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, in this screengrab from a video released on March 22, 2022. AZOV/Handout via REUTERS
Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Mariupol, in this screengrab from a video released on March 22, 2022. AZOV/Handout via REUTERS

The eastern cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv have also been hard hit.

Among the dead in Kharkiv is Boris Romanchenko, a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor whose flat was shelled by Russian forces last week.

"Please think about how many things he has come through," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Monday.

"But (he) was killed by a Russian strike, which hit an ordinary Kharkiv multi-storey building. With each day of this war, it becomes more obvious what denazification means to them."

On Monday night, a witness in Kharkiv said she saw people on the roofs of apartment buildings dropping grenades or similar ordnance onto the streets.

A second witness, outside the city, reported hearing more intense explosions than on any day since Russian troops began attacking last month.

Reuters could not immediately verify the accounts.

In Kyiv, six bodies were laid on the pavement by a shopping mall struck overnight by Russian shelling. Emergency services combed wreckage to the sound of distant artillery fire.

The governor of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region said buses evacuating civilians from front line areas were hit by shelling on Monday and four children were wounded in separate incidents.

Ukrainian officials hope that Moscow will negotiate a withdrawal. Both sides hinted last week at progress in talks on a formula which would include some kind of "neutrality" for Ukraine, though details were scarce.

Japan reacted angrily on Tuesday after Russia withdrew from peace treaty talks citing Tokyo's decision to join the international campaign of sanctions. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Russia's decision was "completely unacceptable