Civilians walk outside a damaged building in Mariupol, Ukraine Civilians walk outside a damaged building in Mariupol, Ukraine  (ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Ukraine president calls siege of Mariupol ‘historic act of terror’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia's siege of the port city of Mariupol is an act of terror that will be remembered for centuries, amid reports that thousands of residents have been deported to Russia.

By Stefan J. Bos

With ongoing Russian shelling in the background, some residents of Mariupol carefully walk between the rubble of ruined buildings. The local council says Russian forces bombed a Mariupol art school on Saturday, in which 400 residents had taken shelter.

Previously, the Russian military allegedly hit civilian targets, such as a children's hospital and a theater where up to 1,300 people were hiding.

With rescue efforts ongoing, the final death toll of these attacks wasn't apparent. However, Moscow has denied it targets civilian sites.

Local authorities also say Russian forces have deported thousands of residents to Russia. Yet, Russian news agencies acknowledged that several hundred of what Moscow calls refugees had been carried in buses from Mariupol.

Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of war crimes. "Mariupol will go down in history as an example of war crimes. To do this to a peaceful city, that the occupiers did, is an act of terror that will be remembered for centuries," he said.

Many of Mariupol's 400,000 residents have been trapped for more than two weeks. Russia seeks control of the city which would help secure a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Battlefield suffering

As the war continues, so does the suffering on the battlefields. The death toll is climbing on both sides, including those whose lives had just begun. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have already died since the war broke out in earnest on February 24.

In recent days, Ukrainian forces outside Kyiv have recovered Russian dead bodies in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war. Local residents admit that some of the killed Russian soldiers were dumped in bomb craters.

Ukrainian President Zelensky claims Russian forces have encountered stiff resistance. "In places where there were especially fierce battles, the bodies of Russian soldiers pile up among our line of defense. And no one is collecting these bodies."

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the assault on Ukraine, which began on February 24, a "special operation." He claimed it aims to demilitarize Ukraine and root out people he views as Nazis and dangerous nationalists.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at what he views as Western propaganda. "So we know the manners and the tricks which are being used by the Western countries to manipulate the media," the minister complained.

"We understood long ago that there is no such thing as an independent Western media. In the United States, only [broadcaster] Fox News is trying to present some alternative point of view," he added. 

However, Western nations disagree. They call it an "aggressive war of choice," displacing millions and have imposed punishing sanctions on Russia aimed at crippling its economy.

Despite the setbacks, both sides have indicated they want to continue peace talks in which Turkey plays a mediating role.

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20 March 2022, 16:54