Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in Mariupol

The mayor of the besieged port city of Mariupol has put the number of civilians killed there at more than 5,000, as Ukraine braced for what could become a climactic battle for control of the country's industrial east. Mayor Vadym Boichenko also said that of the civilians killed during the weeks of Russian bombardment and street fighting, 210 were children. He added that Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death and that more than 90% of the city's infrastructure has been destroyed.

The attacks on the strategic southern city on the Sea of Azov have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine and pulverised homes and businesses. British defence officials said 160,000 people remained trapped in the city, which had a pre-war population of 430,000. A humanitarian relief convoy accompanied by the Red Cross has been trying for days without success to get into the city.

Capturing Mariupol would allow Russia to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

A view inside the Mariupol theater damaged during fighting

'Main effort of Russian troops is centred on Donetsk'

The Ukrainian Armed Forces has released the following update after the 42nd day of hostilities:

  • The main efforts of Russian troops is to "break through the defences" of Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region.
  • They are also trying to take full control of the city of Mariupol.
  • Russian forces continue to shell Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.
  • Russian troops are using railway lines to quickly move military cargo. Weapons and other equipment arrived at the Kupyansk railway station in northeastern Ukraine from Valuyki station in Belgorod, Russia.
  • Ukrainian forces have taken back Osokorivka near Kherson in the south of Ukraine from Russian troops.
Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in MariupolMen ride bicycles by a destroyed apartment building in Borodyanka

Russia withdraws 24,000 more troops from Kyiv and Chrenihiv Russia has completed the pullout of all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north of Ukraine, sending them into Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganise, a US defence official speaking on condition of anonymity said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow is now marshalling reinforcements and trying to push deeper into the country's east, where the Kremlin has said its goal is to "liberate" the Donbas, Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland. "The fate of our land and of our people is being decided. We know what we are fighting for and we will do everything to win," Mr Zelensky said.

Ukrainian authorities urged people living in the Donbas to evacuate now, ahead of an impending Russian offensive. "Later, people will come under fire and we won't be able to do anything to help them," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it will take Russia's battle-damaged forces as much as a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine. Increasing numbers of Vladimir Putin's troops, along with mercenaries, have already been reported as moving into the Donbas.

At least five people were killed by Russian shelling on Wednesday in the Donbas' Donetsk region, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. In the Luhansk region of the Donbas, Russian bombardment set fire to at least 10 multi-storey buildings and a shopping centre in the town of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor reported. There was no immediate word on deaths or injuries.

Russian forces also attacked a fuel depot and a factory in the Dnipropetrovsk region, just west of the Donbas, authorities said. Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas since 2014. Ahead of its February 24 invasion, Moscow recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states.

Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in MariupolA Ukrainian serviceman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha

US and Western allies impose new sanctions

The US and its Western allies have moved to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin over what they branded war crimes. Britain has banned investment in Russia and pledged to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year. The European Union is also expected to take additional punitive measures, including an embargo on coal.

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said that "Russia has already failed in its initial war" after the country's forces were turned back from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. He cautioned, however, that "this fight is far from over", saying: "This war could continue for a long time, but the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine and Ukrainians in the fight for freedom. We're going to stifle Russia's ability to grow for years to come."

Meanwhile, the US and the UK boycotted an informal meeting of the Security Council called by Russia to press its baseless claims that the US has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine. The meeting was the latest of several moves by Russia that have led Western countries to accuse Moscow of using the UN as a platform for disinformation to divert attention from the war. Russia's deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky, who presided over the meeting, asserted that Ukraine, supported by the US, was implementing what he claimed were dangerous projects and experiments as part of a military biological programme.

These allegations have previously been debunked. Ukraine does own and operate a network of biological labs that have received funding and research support from the US and are not a secret. They are part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Programme that aims to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks, whether natural or man-made.

The US efforts date back to work in the 1990s to dismantle the former Soviet Union's programme for weapons of mass destruction. In reaction to the alleged atrocities outside Kyiv, the US announced sanctions against Mr Putin's two adult daughters and said it is toughening penalties against Russian banks.

Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in MariupolAn elderly woman walks by an apartment building destroyed during the Russian shelling in Borodyanka

410 'murder, rape, dismemberment and torture' victims found in Kyiv towns, claim Ukrainian officials Ukrainian authorities have said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in towns around Kyiv, victims of what Mr Zelensky has portrayed as a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture.

At a cemetery in the town of Bucha, workers began to load more than 60 bodies apparently collected over the past few days into a grocery shipping truck for transport to a facility for further investigation. The Kremlin has insisted its troops have committed no war crimes, claiming that the images out of Bucha were staged by the Ukrainians.

Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in MariupolPolicemen work on the identification process following the killing of civilians in Bucha, before sending the bodies to the morgue

Foreign Secretary Truss insists this is 'no time for false comfort' Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has told Nato there is "no time for false comfort" over a dampening in the Russian offensive in Ukraine as she is expected to push the defensive alliance to keep up pressure on the Kremlin.

At a working dinner on Wednesday, she told her Nato counterparts the defensive alliance must toughen its response and not allow security vacuums to emerge. She said: "The age of engagement with Russia is over. We need a new approach to security in Europe based on resilience, defence and deterrence.

"There is no time for false comfort. Russia is not retreating, but regrouping and repositioning to push harder in the east and south of Ukraine." Earlier, Ms Truss announced new sanctions with asset freezes imposed on Sberbank, Russia's largest bank, and the Credit Bank of Moscow.

Imports of Russian iron and steel products will be banned and a further eight oligarchs have also been added to the sanctions list.

Ukraine morning briefing: 5,000 believed to be dead in MariupolA Ukrainian soldier stands near an apartment ruined from Russian shelling in Borodyanka

Boris Johnson believes Russian soldiers' actions appear close to genocide Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the actions of Russian forces in Ukraine appeared close to "genocide". Speaking during a visit to a hospital in Welwyn Garden City, Mr Johnson said: "I'm afraid, when you look at what's happening in Bucha, the revelations that we are seeing from what Putin has done in Ukraine, which doesn't look far short of genocide to me, it is no wonder people are responding in the way that they are."

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