The city government warned of a “critical” situation for residents amid intense shelling. It is unclear how many of Mariupol’s approximately 400,000 residents were able to evacuate the strategically important port city or how many were killed or injured.
Ukraine’s southern advance shows that Russian forces are trying to create the beginnings of a potential land bridge that could link the western port city of Odessa, across Kherson and Mariupol, to the pro-Moscow territories in the East.
Mariupol’s deputy mayor, Sergei Orlov, told CNN “New Day” the southeastern city is now “besieged” by Russian forces and is in dire need of military and humanitarian aid.
“Our Ukrainian army and National Guard are very brave, they stand and fight for Ukraine, for Mariupol. But the situation is quite critical,” Orlov said on Thursday.
“We are asking for help, the help of the army, and we are waiting for the help of the army,” Orlov said. “Our forces inside are very brave, but we are surrounded by the Russian army, which has many more men than in their army.”
He warned that the city was facing a humanitarian crisis after what he said was 26 hours of continuous shelling.
“They are destroying our city with all kinds of weapons, from artillery, from bombers, from tactical missiles, from multiple rocket launchers,” Orlov said.
“We don’t have electricity in the whole city, we don’t have a water supply, we don’t have sanitation, we don’t have heating.”
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko accused the Russian military of creating a “humanitarian disaster” in the city in a post on his Telegram account on Thursday.
“These scum have found no other way to destroy us. They are blocking the supply and repair of electricity, water and heat. They are also damaging the railways. They destroy bridges and smash trains that cause them. I couldn’t evacuate the women, children, and elderly people in Mariupol,” he said.
“They are blocking the food supply, blocking us like in Leningrad before [during World War II], intentionally destroying the city’s vital life-support infrastructure in seven days. Again, we have no light, water or heat. “
He said the city is “working with international organizations to create ‘green corridors’ for humanitarian missions” and looking for a way to cease fire so that power supplies can be restored.
Deputy mayor: ‘We can’t collect all the bodies’
The Russian military announced advances in the Mariupol area on Thursday morning.
“Units of the Armed Forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic have narrowed the siege of Mariupol city, and at the same time gained control of the settlements of Vinogradnoye, Sartaka and Vodyanoye,” said Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman. Russian Defense Ministry, said in a video conference. He repeated his statement that the military did not target civilian areas in Ukraine.
The day before, Konashenkov had outlined an evacuation corridor from Mariupol. “All civilians wishing to leave Mariupol, for security purposes, may head east along Mariupol-Shirokino [Shyrokyne] road,” he said.
Russia regularly denies causing civilian casualties in Ukraine. However, CNN and other media and observers have documented extensive reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
Orlov said that Russian shelling had targeted many civilian buildings, including homes, kindergartens and schools, but he warned that the death toll in the city was still unclear.
“We don’t know how many because we can’t collect all the bodies and we can’t count them,” Orlov said.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian National Guard told CNN, emphasizing that the battle is not over yet.
“Soldiers of the National Guard of Ukraine, together with the Armed Forces, continue to defend the city,” the spokesman said. “Ukrainian troops will not surrender to the city and will attack the occupying forces. The army will also continue to destroy enemy sabotage groups on the outskirts of Mariupol.”
Mariupol is located just west of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. The Russian government has recognized the separatist sub-districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the region. Donbas last month.
“It’s clear that Putin is pushing a land corridor to Crimea. I mean that’s an obvious goal,” former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Richard Shirreff told CNN. Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Shirreff said he fears the latest move could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe as the civilian death toll rises and cities fall to rubble.
Kherson: Food, medicine shortages, looting reports
The situation in Kherson, about 260 miles west of Mariupol, also looked to have worsened on Thursday.
One resident told CNN there was chaos and panic in Kherson as people tried to get basic necessities. According to residents, the city is experiencing severe shortages of food and medicine – especially insulin – with pharmacies being looted.
The resident added that there had been a significant amount of looting by the Russian army, and said that Russian soldiers had been seen capturing the men.
The mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaiev, said Wednesday on his Facebook page that Ukrainian troops are no longer in the city and its residents must now carry out the directives of “armed people to the authorities”. of the city” – indicating that the city was now under Russian control.
Hennadii Lahuta, head of Kherson Regional State Administration, on Thursday said Russian forces had “completely occupied” the regional state administrative building.
“We do not waive our responsibilities. The regional operations headquarters led by me continues to work and solve problems to help the residents of the area. We are waiting for humanitarian aid. “, Lahuta said in a statement.
CNN’s Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych report from Kyiv, while Laura Smith-Spark writes from London. CNN’s Nathan Hodge, Nick Paton Walsh, Natalie Gallon, Vasco Cotovio, Katharina Krebs, Nada Bashir and John Berman contributed to this report.