Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine and called on the West to impose strong sanctions on Moscow that would deter even talk of the use of such weapons.
Widespread destruction in Mariupol but could not verify the alleged crimes or the estimate of those killed in the strategic city, which lies between Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern areas of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.
“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers without providing more details.
The Ukrainian President also said in his daily video address late on Monday that Russia forces could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, but he did not say that chemical weapons have been already used.
There were unconfirmed reports on Monday suggesting that chemical weapons were used in the besieged southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol.
If confirmed, it would be by far the largest number of dead so far reported in one place in Ukraine, where cities, towns and villages have come under relentless bombardment and bodies, including civilians, have been seen in the streets.
The head of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People`s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russia`s RIA news agency on Monday that more than 5,000 people may have been killed in Mariupol. He said Ukrainian forces were responsible.
The number of people leaving the city had fallen because Russian forces had slowed pre-departure checks, Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Monday on the Telegram messaging service.
Around 10,000 people were awaiting screening by Russian forces, he said. Russia does not allow military personnel to leave with civilian evacuees. There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which has previously blamed Ukraine for blocking evacuations.
Citing figures from Mariupol`s city administration, Ukraine`s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said 33,000 residents of Mariupol had been deported to Russia or territories held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia said on Sunday it had “evacuated” 723,000 people from Ukraine since the start of what it called its “special operation.” Moscow denies attacking civilians.
“We treat this with the utmost seriousness,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“I would like to remind world leaders that the possible use of chemical weapons by the Russian military has already been discussed. And already at that time it meant that it was necessary to react to the Russian aggression much harsher and faster.”
The Ukrainian President did not say whether chemical weapons had already been used.
An aide to the mayor of Mariupol had said that reports about the chemical attack had not been confirmed and that he would provide details and clarifications later.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the US was aware of the reports but cannot confirm the veracity.
“We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Kirby said. “These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”