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War in Ukraine, day 48 | At least 20,000 dead in Mariupol since start of war, authorities say

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(Kramatorsk) Russian fighting and shelling in Mariupol have claimed at least 20,000 lives since the end of February, regional authorities said on Tuesday, as the noose tightens on the port city in southeastern Ukraine, where Kyiv and the West accuse the Russian forces of wanting to use “chemical agents” to dislodge the Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the city.

What you need to know

  • The conflict has made more than 4.6 million refugees;
  • Kyiv refuses a visit from the German president;
  • President Zelensky on Tuesday denounced “hundreds of cases of rape” observed in areas previously occupied by the Russian army;
  • The Russian offensive continues “calmly”, according to Vladimir Putin;
  • “Putin has decided that he will not stop”, according to Macron;
  • A battle of tunnels and dungeons in Mariupol;
  • At least 20,000 people have died in Mariupol since the end of February;
  • A Russian offensive in the east is imminent;
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Monday evening in a video address for more weapons from his allies;
  • UK attempts to verify whether chemical weapons were used by Russian forces in Mariupol;
  • Several UN officials on Monday called for the opening of investigations into violence against women;
  • Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he was “rather pessimistic” after his meeting with Vladimir Putin.

“We can say that between 20 and 22,000 people died in Mariupol,” Pavlo Kirilenko, the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, said on Tuesday in an interview with the American television channel CNN.

The governor previously reported 10,000 killed in the besieged city, cut off from the world and bombarded for more than 40 days.

He admitted that it was in fact “difficult to talk about a number of victims”, the city being the subject of a blockade.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had previously said he feared “tens of thousands of victims”, all figures impossible to verify immediately from an independent source.

Governor Pavlo Kirilenko also indicated on Telegram that the city is now plagued “day and night” by “street fighting”. However, he admitted having “almost no more contact” with Mariupol.

According to Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak, on Twitter, “Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded and blocked” in the city where “90% of the houses” have been destroyed.

Taking Mariupol would allow the Russians to consolidate their territorial gains on the coastal strip along the Sea of ​​Azov by connecting the Donbass regions to the Crimean peninsula, which they annexed in 2014.

The Russian army claimed to have thwarted Monday an attempt to break through by a hundred Ukrainian soldiers with armored vehicles which were in a factory in the north of the city.

“Chemical Agents”

The existence of this vast metallurgical complex transformed into a stronghold by the Ukrainian forces of Mariupol, with kilometers of underground, promises a fierce battle for the total control of Mariupol, even the use of chemical weapons, envisaged by the pro-Russian separatists of Donbass .

The United States thus reported on Tuesday “credible information” in this sense.

According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “Russian forces could use different riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents” against “Ukrainian fighters and civilians” in Mariupol.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also said on Tuesday that it was “concerned” by this information, on which the United Kingdom had already warned on Monday.

“Hundreds of rapes”

In the immediate future, the civilian losses are revealed over the days in other areas of the country, even before the great battle promised in the east for control of Donbass.

The Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region revealed on Tuesday that around 400 civilians had been buried since the start of the war on February 24 in the city of Severodonetsk alone.

Morgues in towns in the region are “overflowing with the bodies of dead civilians”, Serguiï Gaïdaï added on Telegram.

On Tuesday, President Zelensky denounced “hundreds of cases of rape” observed according to him in the areas previously occupied by the Russian army after the start of the invasion on February 24, “including underage girls and very small children ”

“Almost daily, new mass graves are found,” said Mr. Zelensky, who was addressing the Lithuanian parliament by video link. “Thousands and thousands of victims. Hundreds of cases of torture. Bodies continue to be found in sewers and cellars.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country denies any abuse in Ukraine, called Tuesday “fake” reports accusing his soldiers of having massacred hundreds of civilians in Boutcha, a town in the northwestern suburbs of Kyiv, where they withdrew in late March after failing to encircle Kyiv.

AFP had seen there on Saturday April 2 the lifeless bodies of at least twenty men wearing civilian clothes lying in a street in Boutcha. One of the men had his hands tied and the bodies were strewn over several hundred yards.

Putin aide arrested

Ukrainian MP and businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and on the run since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has been arrested following a “special operation”, Ukrainian authorities announced on Tuesday .

“A special operation was carried out thanks to the SBU [les services de sécurité ukrainiens]. Cheer ! “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Telegram channel, accompanying his message with a photo of Viktor Medvedchuk, handcuffed and dressed in a Ukrainian army uniform.

The SBU later confirmed his arrest, without giving details.

“You can be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may be on the run. You can even wear a Ukrainian military uniform to dress up… But will that help you escape punishment? Not at all ! “commented the security services on Telegram.

The message is accompanied by a statement from the head of the SBU, Ivan Bakanov, who thanks his subordinates for having successfully led “this exceptional and dangerous mission”.

Viktor Medvedchuk, 67, had been under house arrest since May 2021 after being charged with “high treason” and “attempted looting of natural resources in Crimea”, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

On February 26, two days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian police noted his disappearance during a control visit.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on his arrest to Russian news agencies, saying that “there is a lot of ‘fake’ coming from Ukraine” and saying that “it needs to be checked first.” “.

Exhumation of civilians

Around Kyiv, the bodies of six people killed by bullets found in a basement in the eastern suburbs, according to the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office, were added on Tuesday to hundreds of others, found in the past two weeks in the vicinity of the capital. .

In Andriïvka, a village 30 km west of Kyiv which was still on the front line a few weeks ago, AFP journalists witnessed the exhumation of the bodies of other victims, three men in civilian clothes.

Among them, that of Yuri Kravtchennia. According to his wife, Olessia, he was shot in the street just after the start of the Russian invasion, while standing with his hands up.

As her remains emerged from the ground, Olessia screamed in pain and collapsed. “I can’t go on without him,” she said.

In the east, bordering Russia and where Moscow has made the total conquest of the Donbass its priority objective, Kyiv has announced that it expects a major offensive in the short term.

“According to our information, the enemy has almost completed its preparation for an attack on the east. The attack will take place very soon,” warned Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandre Motouzianik.

Civilians continued to flee the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, from where six evacuation trains were to leave on Tuesday according to the regional administration.

“All my parents are from Russia, I was born there. My father and my mother too. I have family all over Russia. Here in the Donbass and Kramatorsk live people of all nationalities […] Where did he see Nazis? Asks Sloviansk, a city in the region, Valentina Oleynikova, 82, who is leaving with her husband.

She was referring to the Russian president who justifies the invasion of Ukraine with an alleged desire to “denazify” the country.

He “won’t stop”

Analysts believe that Vladimir Putin, mired in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, wants to secure a victory in this region before the May 9 military parade in Red Square marking the Soviet victory over the Nazis in 1945.

Visiting the Russian Far East on Tuesday, Mr. Putin assured that the offensive of his forces in Ukraine was continuing “in accordance with the plan proposed from the start by the general staff”.

He said that if the negotiations, now at a standstill, did not work out, it was because of the “inconsistencies” of the Ukrainian side.

Kyiv, for its part, confirmed that the negotiations were “extremely difficult” with Moscow.

Vladimir Putin has in fact “decided that he will not stop”, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview published on Tuesday, saying he believed “rather little in our collective ability to put him around a negotiating table at short term “.

In the immediate future, it is a deputy and wealthy Ukrainian businessman reputed to be very close to Mr. Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been arrested by the Ukrainian security services, according to President Zelensky who accompanied his message on Telegram of a photo of the handcuffed businessman.

More than 4.6 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country since the invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin on February 24, according to the latest figures published on Tuesday by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The war in Ukraine has triggered a chain reaction in the global economy with rising energy and food prices that will deepen poverty and hunger, and increase the debt burden, the President of the World Bank.

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