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Ukraine says Russia blocked relief convoy

Ukrainian officials accuse Russia of blocking aid getting into the besieged city of Mariupol. Photo: AP
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Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy trying to get desperately needed food and other supplies into the besieged port city of Mariupol.

The city has also come under naval attack after weeks of air and land strikes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated that 100,000 civilians remained in Mariupol, scene of some of the war’s worst devastation, as Russia presses a nearly month-old offensive by bombarding cities and towns.

Those made it out described a shattered city with bodies lying in the streets.

“They bombed us for the past 20 days,” said 39-year-old Viktoria Totsen, who fled into Poland.

“During the last five days, the planes were flying over us every five seconds and dropped bombs everywhere — on residential buildings, kindergartens, art schools, everywhere.”

‘Foiled’ by the Russians

Zelensky, speaking on Tuesday in his nightly video address to his nation, accused Russian forces of blocking the aid convoy despite agreeing to the route ahead of time.

“We are trying to organise stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling or deliberate terror,” Zelensky said.

The Red Cross confirmed a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach the city had not been able to enter.

The convoy’s attempt to deliver assistance came as Russian navy vessels joined in what have been weeks of Russian air and land strikes into Mariupol, US officials said.

Ships add to shelling of Mariupol

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov added to the shelling of Mariupol.

The official said there were about seven Russian ships in that area, including a minesweeper and a couple of landing vessels.

In their last update on March 15, Mariupol officials said at least 2300 people had died in the siege.

Accounts from the city suggest the true toll is much higher, with bodies lying uncollected. Airstrikes over the past week destroyed a theatre and an art school where many civilians were taking shelter.

Zelensky, in his address, said more than 7000 people were evacuated from Mariupol on Tuesday. Those who remain suffer “in inhuman conditions, under a full blockade, without food, without water, without medicine and under constant shelling, under constant bombardment,” he said.

Before the war, 430,000 people lived in Mariupol.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is a crucial port for Ukraine and lies along a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. The siege has cut the city off from the sea and allowed Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea.

It’s not clear how much of the city Russia holds, with fleeing residents saying fighting continues street by street.

-AP