By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
LVIV, Ukraine -Ukraine appealed to Russia on Tuesday to allow humanitarian supplies into Mariupol and let desperate civilians out of the besieged city, which President Volodymr Zelenskiy said had been devastated by Russian bombardment.
Officials in Mariupol say the port city on the Sea of Azov, which has a peacetime population of 400,000, has no food, medicine, power or running water.
Mariupol’s plight highlights what an international aid official in Ukraine said was the breakdown of the country’s humanitarian system.
“There is nothing left there,” Zelenskiy said of Mariupol in a video address to the Italian parliament.
As he was speaking, the city council said Russian forces had dropped two large bombs on Mariupol but gave no details of casualties or damage. Reuters could not independently verify the report. Russia did not immediately comment on it.
“Once again it is clear that the occupiers are not interested in the city of Mariupol. They want to level it to the ground and make it the ashes of a dead land,” the council said in a statement.
Russia denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for the repeated failure to establish safe passage for civilians out of Mariupol. Ukraine defied an ultimatum for the city to surrender by dawn on Monday as a condition for Russian forces to let civilians leave safely.
“We demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television on Tuesday.
Vereshchuk said Mariupol was the main focus of government evacuation efforts but that Russian forces were also preventing humanitarian supplies reaching residents of the occupied southern city of Kherson. She gave no details.
HUMANITARIANSYSTEM ‘BROKEN DOWN‘
Steve Gordon, humanitarian response adviser at international aid agency Mercy Corps, expressed concern about the vulnerability of supply chains in Ukraine.
“We know that most municipalities in areas seeing the most intense fighting don’t have more than 3-4 days worth of essentials like food,” Gordon, who is in Ukraine, said in a statement issued by Mercy Corps.
“The reality is that right now the humanitarian system is entirely broken down. We are not seeing a high-functioning, coordinated international aid effort covering the whole of Ukraine, like we often see in other conflict zones.”
Only a few thousand civilians have managed to flee Mariupol, including a convoy witnessed by Mercy Corps.
“The cars are all taped together with duct tape and plastic, packed with 7-8 people in each car. Many of the cars say ‘child’ on the window in the hopes that this would prevent them from being attacked,” he said.
“Some have belongings strapped to the roof but many have nothing and you can tell people had to leave everything behind.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm the country and protect it from “Nazis”. The West calls this a false pretext for an unprovoked war.
Capturing Mariupol would help Russian forces secure a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.