LONDON – Tens of thousands of civilians may have died in Mariupol, the city’s mayor said as analysts warn that Russia is regrouping for a renewed attack on eastern Ukraine.
The streets of Mariupol are “carpeted” with corpses, said Vadym Boychenko, Mariupol’s mayor, on Monday.
Although there is no confirmed number of casualties, the mayor suggested that the death toll could be well over 10,000 in the coastal city, the site of some of the worst bombings since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
“If it is possible to mention such a frightening number, then it is over 10,000. According to our estimates, it is 20,000 plus, unfortunately,” Boychenko said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Russian airstrikes have hit the southeastern city over the past few weeks targeting all sorts of buildings, including a theater that houses those seeking refuge, a maternity hospital and an art school. Officials say over 80 percent of the city has been destroyed.
As the city is almost completely cut off from the outside world, it has been difficult for the authorities to confirm the atrocities allegedly committed on the spot, including allegations made on Monday by the Azov Battalion, a right-wing extremist group now part of the Ukrainian National Guard that Russia may have used chemical weapons against the Ukrainian forces in the city.
The allegations could not be independently verified by ABC News.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office and the country’s defense ministry said they were investigating the allegations.
“We are currently confirming this information and trying to understand what it was. According to the preliminary information, we can say that it is possible – that it was rather a phosphorus ammunition. Official information will be finalized later,” said Hanna Maliar, Deputy Minister of Defense, during a national news broadcast.
A spokesman for Russian-backed separatists, Eduard Basurin, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Tuesday, saying they “have not used any chemical weapons in Mariupol.”
But on the eve of the alleged attack, Basurin stated on Russian television that his forces should use chemical weapons against Ukrainian troops to “smoke them out”.
Late Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby issued a statement saying the use of the drug could not be confirmed, but expressed concern over Russia’s potential use of “anti-rebel drugs, including tear gas mixed with chemicals.”
“We are aware of social media reports claiming that Russian forces have deployed a potential chemical ammunition in Mariupol, Ukraine. We can not confirm at this time and will continue to follow the situation closely. These reports, if true, are “deeply concerned and reflects the concerns we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of means of rioting, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” the statement said.
Britain’s Armed Forces minister said on Tuesday that if Russia were to resort to the use of chemical weapons in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, “all sorts of options are on the table as to how the West can react” in response to speculation, saying . reports had not been verified.
Whether phosphorus is considered a chemical weapon or not is a topic of debate among the military and governments.
Although phosphorus is not classified as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Geneva Convention prohibits its use as a firearm in civilian areas.
Amid reports that Russia is regrouping behind its own borders, the British Ministry of Defense warned today that fighting will intensify over the next two to three weeks with a renewed attack.
“Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,” the British Ministry of Defense said. stated in a tweet.
“Russian attacks continue to focus on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed advance on Kramatorsk. Russian forces continue to withdraw from Belarus to relocate in support of operations in eastern Ukraine.” added the entry.