The European Union’s foreign policy chief has not minced words in today’s address to the bloc, pointing to recent atrocities in one city in particular.
Ukraine has rejected a demand from Russia that its besieged city Mariupol surrender by 5am, Moscow time, as the invading forces continue their brutal assault on population centres across the country.
Mariupol has suffered relentless bombardment and street fighting for days. Many of its residents are entirely without food, water or power. The situation on the ground has been described as “hell on earth”.
Today the Russian Defence Ministry announced it would allow Ukrainians to evacuate the city unharmed, but only if it surrendered to them. The Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that was “not an option”.
“There can be no question of any surrender, laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side about this,” she told the news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.
“I wrote: ‘Instead of wasting time on eight pages of letters, just open the corridor.’”
She described the ultimatum as “manipulation” and “hostage taking”.
Fresh explosions have also erupted in Kyiv. Russia appears to have abandoned its efforts to encircle the capital city and is instead shelling it from afar.
Stream the latest on the invasion of Ukraine from the world’s most trusted news sources with Flash. 25+ news channels in 1 place. New to Flash? Try 1 month free. Offer ends October 31, 2022 >
Read on for the latest updates.
EU chief declares Mariupol attacks ‘a massive war crime’
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has declared Russia‘s attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol as “a massive war crime” as the port settlement continues to resist the invading military force.
The EU met again early on Monday to discuss further sanctions against Russia as the conflict nears its one-month mark.
“What‘s happening now in Mariupol is a massive war crime, destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody,” Mr Borrell told the meeting of EU foreign ministers.
When quizzed about Russia’s alleged use of hypersonic missiles in Ukraine, Borrell replied: “Yes, they are doing it” adding that it is “using all its military capabilities.”
“The problem is that they are using military capabilities against civilians. It is not a war, it is a massive destruction of a country without any consideration for the law of war. Because war also has rules,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called upon the bloc to increase sanctions again on Monday, urging countries to cease trade completely with Russia as shelling continues.
“Please do not sponsor the weapons of war of this country, of Russia. No euros for the occupiers. Close all of your ports to them. Don‘t export them your goods. Deny energy resources. Push for Russia to leave Ukraine,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address.
‘Hell on earth’: Cities brutalised, “hazardous”
Russian forces continue to hammer Ukraine’s major cities, with fresh explosions rocking the capital Kyiv and the situation in Mariupol growing even more desperate.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one bombing hit “several homes” and a “shopping centre” in the city’s Podilskyi District, killing at least one person. At least four people have been killed.
The first video below was posted by Kira Rudik, a member of Ukraine’s parliament. The Kyiv Independent reports it is footage from a shopping centre security camera, and shows the strike Mr Klitschko mentioned.
The Financial Times has published a harrowing report outlining just how horrific the conditions are on the groundin Mariupol. Starving residents have reportedly started to kill stray dogs for food.
“You hear the words but it’s impossible to really take them in, to believe this is happening,” said Dmytro, who made it out of Mariupol but has heard horror stories from his friends who were left behind.
“It is hell on earth.”
He said he visited the city’s central market a week ago after it was destroyed by artillery.
“Everything was burning, there were corpses everywhere. And I was just walking through, picking up a cabbage here, a carrot there, knowing it meant my family would live another day or two,” he recounted.
“You become completely desensitised.”
Residents told to shelter after chemical ‘leak’
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian shells allegedly damaged a chemical plant in the north of the country causing an “ammonia leakage” that sparked a temporary alarm.
Residents of the northern Ukrainian town of Novoselytsya were told Monday to temporarily take shelter after a leak at a nearby chemical factory amid intense fighting with Russian forces in the area.
Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said there had been an “ammonia leakage” at the Sumykhimprom facility, affecting an area within 2.5 kilometres of the plant, which produces fertilisers.
Residents were told to seek refuge in basements or on lower levels of buildings to avoid exposure to toxic gas as it is irritating and corrosive when inhaled.
The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that “nationalists” had “mined” ammonia and chlorine storage facilities at Sumykhimprom “with the aim of mass poisoning of residents of the Sumy region, in case of entry into the city of units of the Russian Armed Forces”.
Russia’s ‘surrender’ deadline passes
It’s now after 5am in Moscow, which means the deadline Russia set in its ultimatum to the people of Mariupol has passed.
Russia’s Military of Defence said it would allow Ukrainians to evacuate Mariupol unharmed if they surrendered by that deadline.
“All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol,” General Mikhail Mizintsev said, according to Russian state media.
“We appeal to the odious bandits, who are responsible for hundreds of lives of innocent people and now call themselves representatives of the local authorities. It is you who now have the right to a historic choice. Either you are with your people, or you are with bandits.”
He went on to accuse the Ukrainians defending their city of “terrible crimes and provocations”, which is ironic to say the least.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, Irina Vereshchuk, publicly rejected Russia’s terms.
“There can be no discussion of any surrender or of laying down arms,” she said, describing the ultimatum as “manipulation” and “hostage taking”.
Putin ‘moving his forces into a woodchipper
Military analysts say Russia may still be fighting an uphill battle if it takes the city of Mariupol, claiming the tight, block-to-block warfare will have depleted the military’s provisions in the area.
Ukrainians were given the option to surrender the city — one of the heaviest hit in the now 26-day conflict — over the weekend. The strategic location is essential for Russia to consolidate forces in southern and eastern Ukraine.
“The block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is costing the Russian military time, initiative, and combat power,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a statement.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the staunch Ukrainian response has stalled Vladimir Putin’s forces for weeks.
“It‘s had the effect of him moving his forces into a woodchipper,” Austin told CBS news.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said there was no chance forces on the ground in the decimated city would surrender.
“There can be no question of any surrender, laying down of arms,” she said. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”
While thousands of civilians have fled Mariupol in recent weeks, at least 200,000 are believed to remain.
Terrifying new footage of soldiers storming homes
Russian soldiers are going door to door now, occupying buildings in Ukrainian cities and keeping residents hostage.
The New York Times has obtained footage from an apartment complex just outside Kyiv.
It shows Russian soldiers breaking into the building, smashing security cameras and making themselves at home.
“They made around 200 residents stay too, holding many of them hostage in the basements of their own buildings, forcing them to hand over their phones and taking over their apartments,” the Times reports.
“Others were able to avoid detection but still were essentially prisoners in their own homes as Russian forces moved into the buildings, which had housed 560 families, and took up sniping positions.”
Residents of the apartment complex in Hostomel said they were terrified by what had unfolded.
The message from invading Russian soldiers was brutal, residents said.
“They told us, ‘Don’t be mad at us, but if we find your phone, you will be shot on the spot’.”
West accused of repeating Crimea mistake
Prominent Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, who’s been calling for the West to intervene in Ukraine, has today accused the United States of repeating its mistakes from the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“The Biden White House and its media defenders are repeating the arguments of the Obama administration and its media defenders in 2014. Heroic restraint! Such leadership! You are too hot-headed, Kasparov, let’s just wait and see!! We waited. We see,” he said.
“As soon as the first Russian tank crossed the border of Ukraine, the West declared Putin the ruler of the largest country in Europe. No longer sovereign, no longer allowed to invite allies to fight in its own territory in its defence. Only Putin can do that.
“The US and EU want to go back to their comfortable corruption, buying Russian oil and gas, applying weak sanctions, lip service about democracy, inviting Putin to summits and Davos.
“Dictators always escalate and the West kept folding. But this time a problem: Ukraine refuses to fold.”
Western leaders would undoubtedly dispute Mr Kasparov’s characterisation of the sanctions on Russia as “weak”. They’re certainly far harsher now than they were in 2014. But you can see where he’s coming from.
‘Don’t be naive’: Chinese ambassador grilled
China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, was grilled on his country’s relationship with Russia on Face the Nation today.
Host Margaret Brennan asked him about reports that Russia approached China for aid to help its struggling war effort.
“China stands for peace and opposes war. China is a peace-loving country. We hate to see the situation in Ukraine come to this,” Qin said.
“We call for an immediate ceasefire, and we are promoting peace talks, and we are sending humanitarian assistance.”
“Would you send money and weapons to Russia, though?” asked Brennan.
“Well, there is disinformation about China providing military assistance to Russia. We reject that,” he replied.
“We are against the war, like I said, and we will do everything to de-escalate the crisis.”
Brennan pressed him again a short time later, asking whether Xi Jinping had “told Vladimir Putin to stop the invasion” and whether China would support Russia financially.
“China has normal trade, economic, financial and energy cooperation with Russia,” said Qin.
She brought up China’s vote at the International Court of Justice, which called for the invasion to be halted by a 13-2 vote. The two dissenters were Russia and China.
“That sounds like you are condoning, not condemning,” said Brennan. “Why can’t you condemn this as an invasion?”
“Don’t be naive,” Qin shot back.
“It sounds naive to say that’s not an invasion,” she countered.
“Condemnation doesn’t solve the problem. I’d be surprised if Russia will back down because of condemnation,” he said.
In other words: condemning the invasion won’t stop it, so why bother? One might charitably call this argument flawed, though other, ruder words are springing to mind. Anyway, you can watch the exchange below.
‘Mass murderers’: Zelensky condemns horrific bombing
In his nightly address, Volodymyr Zelensky has stepped up his rhetoric somewhat, saying Russian soldiers will be punished by God for their crimes against his countrymen.
“It has been 25 days that Russian troops have been looking, and can’t find ‘Nazis’ whom they invented, from whom they purportedly want to protect our people,” Mr Zelensky said.
“They are looking for and can’t find Ukrainians who would greet them with flowers.
“And most importantly, Russian troops can’t find their way home. That is why our soldiers are helping them with the path to God’s judgment. God’s judgment, at which I’m convinced they will receive one punishment: an eternal basement. Forever under bombs, forever without food, water and heating.
“For everything they have done against our people, ordinary Ukrainians, civilians.”
He specifically condemned Russia for bombing an art school in Mariupol, where the city council said about 400 people were hiding.
“People were taking shelter, hiding from shelling and bombing. There were no military posts. There were nearly 400 people, mostly women, children and the elderly,” he said.
“They are trapped under the rubble now. At the moment, we don’t know how many are alive. But we know that we will shoot down the pilot who dropped that bomb, just as we have already shot down a hundred other mass murderers.”
US downplays hypersonic missile threat
The US Defence Secretary, General Lloyd Austin, was interviewed on Face the Nation today. He was asked about Russia’s hypersonic missiles, which it now claims to have used twice in Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin has described the hypersonic missile as an “ideal weapon”. It moves faster than conventional missiles and can manoeuvre after being fired, making it harder for defence systems to track.
Gen Austin downplayed the significance of the weapon.
“I would not see it as a game changer,” he said.
“I think the reason (Putin) is resorting to using these types of weapons is because he is trying to re-establish some momentum.
“And again, we’ve seen him attack towns and cities and civilians outright. We expect to see that continue.
Russia’s ‘absolutely horrific’ new act
The situation in Mariupol, the besieged southern city where Russia has issued an ultimatum to surrender by 5am, is more dire than ever.
“There is no city anymore,” said Marina Galla, one of several Mariupol survivors who spoke to The Associated Press.
“They began to destroy our city completely, house after house. Battles took place over every street. Every house became a target,” said another survivor, Olga Nikitina.
That AP report includes further confirmation that Russian soldiers have been encouraging fleeing Ukrainians, who are trying to reach relative safety, to go to Russia instead.
That’s an unsettling suggestion, given thousands of Mariupol residents have reportedly been taken to Russia by force.
“Over the past week, several thousand Mariupol residents have been taken to Russian territory,” the Mariupol City Council said on Saturday.
“The occupiers illegally took people from the Livoberezhny district and from the shelter in the sports club building, where more than a thousand people (mostly women and children) were hiding from the constant bombing.”
It said the people in question were taken across the border, where there documents were checked. Some were then redirected to remote Russian cities, while the “fate of the others is unknown”.
Russian state media’s version of events is that thousands of Mariupol residents “found themselves in Russia in complete safety”.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko had a less charitable description on Saturday, comparing Russia’s actions to those of Nazi Germany.
“What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” the Mayor said.
“It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century, people can be forcibly taken to another country.”
The United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told MSNBC the reports of Russia taking Ukrainians across the border were “absolutely horrific”.
“To force people from Ukraine to go into Russia is absolutely unacceptable. It’s unconscionable,” she said.
Ms Thomas-Greenfield said she could not confirm the reports, but did not “put it past the Russians to take such a horrific action”.
And here, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry makes another comparison to World War II.
‘Most dangerous phase’ of the war ahead
If you’ve been reading our coverage in recent days, you will have seen experts talking about the “culmination” of Russia’s initial invasion.
What does that mean? Retired Australian General Mick Ryan walked us through the situation in a useful Twitter thread this morning.
“US doctrine defines culmination as ‘the point at which continuing the attack is no longer possible and the force must consider reverting to a defensive posture or attempting an operational pause,” he wrote.
“This is not the end of the war, but a pause … without any substantive breakthroughs in peace negotiations, the war may enter a new phase.”
Gen Ryan said Vladimir Putin might be forced to “reset his objectives” in Ukraine.
“At a minimum, he will be gathering his small circle of advisers to ascertain what might be a achieved after a pause, and what resources would be required,” he said.
“This new ‘theory of victory’ may include some form of national mobilisation of personnel and industry. They may also ‘shut down’ one of their fronts in the east or the south to reinforce the north.
“This would allow them to fix their collapsing tactical and operational logistics system.”
He proceeded to outline the options available to Putin, the first being a war of “attrition from afar”, aimed at forcing Ukraine onto the offensive.
“Russia may choose a strategy of attrition. While this broadly works in Russia’s favour, it is worth noting that it is fighting alone in a tightening sanction framework. The US and other nations are pouring weapons and resources into Ukraine and can do so for a long time to come,” said Gen Ryan.
“However, many nations facing worse odds have continued fighting long after it made sense to do so. Russian forces might therefore settle in for long term sieges of Ukrainian cities, without ground assaults to capture them.
“This might force the Ukrainians onto the offensive against prepared Russian defences. It would require a change of strategy and tactics from the Ukrainians. They have done very well on the defensive so far – how would they perform on the offensive?”
Attrition is not Russia’s only option, however.
“What if Russia does not choose long term attrition? They may decide to escalate the war, including attacks beyond Ukraine’s borders on the bases that are supplying its defenders. Or it might target border crossing locations where weapons enter Ukraine,” he explained.
“What other options does it have? It might seek a breakthrough with a weapon of mass destruction to destroy a portion of the Ukrainian government and military, or to shock it into submission.”
An operational pause would give Ukraine time to build up supplies, and consider how to strike a peace agreement, while Russia continues to suffer under Western sanctions. But all the options listed above are grim.
“Any culmination or pause in Russia’s Ukraine operations is not cause for celebration,” Gen Ryan stressed.
“Russia will not give up its aspirations that easily, despite military failures and external pressure. Indeed, the most dangerous phase of the war may be ahead.”
Diplomatic failure ‘would mean World War III’
Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that unless he and Vladimir Putin can reach a diplomatic agreement to end the invasion, it will mean “that this is a third world war”.
Mr Zelensky spoke to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about the state of the war, and the prospect of negotiating with Putin. He said “dialogue” was “the only way out”.
“Russian forces have come to exterminate, to kill us,” he said.
“I think it’s just the two of us, me and Putin, who can make an agreement on this.
“If these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.”
The problem here is finding a compromise that both leaders will accept. Mr Zelensky made it clear he would not accept a deal in which Ukraine relinquishes its own territory.
“We have to come up with a model where Ukraine will not lose its sovereignty, its territorial integrity,” he said.
It was a lengthy interview. You can watch a big chunk of it below.
Russia’s ominous ultimatum in Mariupol
Russia’s Ministry of Defence has reportedly given Ukraine until 5am on March 21, local time, to decide whether to surrender Mariupol to Russian forces.
The southern port city, with a population of more than 400,000 people, has been besieged for days, and swathes of it have been reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment. More than 100,000 civilians remain there.
Should Ukraine surrender the city, Russia claims it will let the civilians leave.
After evacuating from Mariupol last week, Greece’s consul general said it would join a list of cities “completely destroyed by war”.
“What I saw, I hope no one will ever see,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the siege of Mariupol will go down in history as a war crime.
Thousands of civilians have been trapped inside the city, where communication, water, electricity and gas have been cut. Russia said on Saturday it had broken through the city’s defences and its troops were inside.
“The blockade of Mariupol will go down in history as a war crime,” Mr Zelensky said.
“To do such a thing to a peaceful city, what the occupiers have done, this is a terror that will be remembered even in the next century.
“The more Russia uses terror against Ukraine, the worse the consequences will be for it.”
Last Wednesday, a theatre where more than a thousand people had sheltered was hit, with hundreds still presumed missing in the rubble.
“This is no longer Mariupol, it’s hell,” said resident Tamara Kavunenko, 58.
“The streets are full with the bodies of civilians.”
Dozens killed in a single strike
Ukraine believes about 40 of its soldiers have been killed by a Russian strike on a military barracks in Mykolaiv.
Up to 200 troops were inside the barracks when it was hit, and dozens of bodies have now been recovered.
“We do not know how many others are in the rubble,” a Ukrainian soldier told AFP.
This is one of the deadliest attacks against Ukrainian military forces so far.
Russia deploys ‘unstoppable’ missile again
Russia says it has fired another hypersonic missile, this time targeting a fuel depot in Kostyantynivka, a city in eastern Ukraine.
This is the second time it has used the Kinzhal missile, which translates as “dagger”, in Ukraine.
The weapons move faster than conventional missiles and can manoeuvre after being fired, which makes them harder to defend against. They are capable of striking targets up to 2000 kilometres away, can move at 10 times the speed of sound, and can carry nuclear warheads.
“This is a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and is believed to be undetectable by Western air defence systems,” Al Jazeera reports.
“It is being called an unstoppable ballistic missile.”
According to Vladimir Putin, it’s an “ideal weapon”.