Vladimir Putin may use phosphorus bombs in desperation to seize Mariupol, warns UK

Vladimir Putin may use phosphorus bombs in desperation to seize Mariupol, warns UK

Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Monday that tens of thousands of people are likely to have been killed in Vladimir Putin’s massacre in Mariupol as British defence chiefs warned he may use phosphorus munitions in his desperation to seize the city.

On day 47 of the conflict, Ukraine’s president steeled his country for a Russian onslaught in the Donbas region this week in what could be crucial battles to decide the course of the war.

“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address to South Korean lawmakers.

The accuracy of his claim on the death toll could not be confirmed.

However, large parts of Mariupol have been obliterated by Russian shelling and air strikes, including on a maternity hospital, school and theatre where hundreds of people including children were sheltering.

Fears are growing that Mr Putin may unleash even more barbaric weapons on Ukraine’s towns and cities after reportedly appointing General Alexander Dvornikov for his Donbas campaign.

Gen Dvornikov, 60, has a record for brutality as the head of Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to back President Bashar Assad’s government during the country’s devastating civil war which saw the city of Aleppo obliterated by bombing and fierce fighting.

Mr Zelensky said tens of thousands more Russian soldiers were being deployed into eastern Ukraine. He told South Korean MPs: “We need more help if we are to survive this war.”

Powerful explosions have rocked cities in the south and east of the country in the last 24 hours and air raid sirens blared out in many towns and cities.

Mr Putin is scrambling to refocus his military campaign on the Donbas region, where there are areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, after his original invasion plan — which included seizing Kyiv within days — failed so spectacularly. British military chiefs said that Russian troops were also suffering some setbacks in the east of the country.

In an intelligence briefing, the Ministry of Defence said: “Russian shelling has continued in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with Ukrainian forces repulsing several assaults resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles, and artillery equipment.”

However, it also warned: “Russian forces prior use of phosphorous munitions in the Donetsk Oblast raises the possibility of their future employment in Mariupol as fighting for the city intensifies.”

White phosphorus is highly toxic and causes very severe injuries as it ignites on contact with oxygen and is highly soluble in fat, meaning it grievously burns human flesh.In other key developments:

  • Austria’s foreign minister said Chancellor Karl Nehammer was taking “very clear messages of a humanitarian and political kind” to a meeting with Mr Putin in Moscow.

  • The eastern city of Kharkhiv and nearby towns have been targeted by intense shelling in the last three days, with 11 people killed so far, including a seven-year-old child, according to official reports.

  • Nine humanitarian corridors were arranged between Ukrainian and Russian officials to allow civilians to flee eastern Ukraine, including from Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia but previous such agreements have collapsed.

  • Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said, as she arrived for a meeting with her European Union counterparts in Brussels: “Ukraine needs further military material, above all heavy weapons, and now is not the time for excuses.”

  • Environment Secretary George Eustice said the UK “would be making available more defensive military equipment to the Ukrainians”, including more than 100 armoured vehicles and more missiles, following Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday.

Russia’s ministry of defence said its forces had destroyed S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems which had been supplied to Ukraine by a European country and which were in a hangar on the outskirts of Dnipro.

The UK military chiefs warned of “persisting” claims of Mr Putin’s troops using rape as a horrendous weapon of war in Ukraine.

The MoD also said that there was growing evidence of the Russian President’s forces committing war crimes after they were forced to retreat from northern Ukraine.

Their grim warnings came after local officials in northern Ukraine said the bodies of 1,200 people had been recovered, with around 300 civilians believed to have been killed in Bucha, near Kyiv, alone.

Mass graves were also found in the town, civilians with their hands tied behind their back had been shot in the head, a sign of execution, and women raped.

Ukrainian men, with their hands in the air, were also reportedly shot dead in another community by retreating Russian soldiers.