The Russian Defense Ministry said more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines surrendered to Russian forces in the besieged port of Mariupol, a claim Ukrainian officials said they could neither comment on nor confirm.
If verified, the surrender would be a blow to Ukrainian efforts to hold Mariupol, which has been the scene of brutal street-to-street fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
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As Russian materiel convoys moved in several directions towards the eastern Donbass region ahead of a planned offensive there, a senior Ukrainian official said there would be no humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians in multiple locations on April 13.
In a statement on Telegram, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk accused Russian troops of not respecting the terms of agreements reached to allow evacuations.
“In the Zaporizhzhya region, the [Russians] blocked the evacuation buses, and in the Luhansk region they are violating the ceasefire”, she says.
In Mariupol, Russian state television on April 13 aired a video of troops marching with their hands up which it said were Ukrainian marines who had surrendered. Similar video footage was circulating on the social media accounts of pro-Kremlin bloggers. Videos could not be independently verified.
“In the city of Mariupol… 1,026 Ukrainian servicemen from the 36th Marine Brigade voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered,” the Russian Defense Ministry said earlier.
Zelenskiy’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. Reuters quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying it had no information on the veracity of the information.
Vadym Denysenko, assistant to the Ukrainian interior minister, dismissed the Russian claim, telling Current Time that it had not been confirmed by the Ukrainian military.
Oleksei Arestovych, another aide to Zelenskiy, posted a contradictory statement on Facebook, instead saying the 36th Marine Brigade had broken the fighting lines and joined units from the Azov Battalion, another military unit fighting for defend the city.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the surrender took place at the Illych steel plant and that 151 wounded soldiers were treated on the spot and taken to hospital in the city of Mariupol.
Earlier on April 13, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen strongman whose soldiers spearheaded the assault on Mariupol, also said more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines had surrendered.
Mariupol has also been the site of alleged use of chemical weapons, which worries international experts.
In his April 12 overnight address, Zelenskiy pointed to the unconfirmed reports, saying that while experts try to determine what the substance might be, “the world needs to respond now.”
Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said it was possible that phosphorus weapons – which are not classified as chemical weapons – were used in Mariupol.
Poland’s president and the leaders of the three Baltic countries traveled to kyiv on April 13 for a trip aimed at bolstering Zelenskiy’s government. They are the latest of a growing number of European leaders who have traveled to Ukraine to show their support.
Russian forces were thwarted in the first phase of the war, failing to take kyiv or other major Ukrainian cities, amid fierce defense by the Ukrainians, who are increasingly well armed with Western weapons .
Russian military commanders are now moving their forces and preparing for a new offensive in the Donbass region, where the war has been going on since 2014. The region borders Russia, which means it will be easier to supply and replenish the troops.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to continue the campaign, which has been met with punitive Western economic sanctions that are expected to push Russia’s economy into a deep contraction this year.
Speaking on April 12 alongside Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Putin said Russia “has no choice” but to invade, saying the campaign was aimed at protecting people in parts of the country. eastern Ukraine and to “ensure Russia’s own security”.
He promised that he would “continue until its complete completion and the achievement of the objectives that have been set”.
In the United States, Biden on April 12 called Russia’s war “genocide” and accused Putin of trying to “erase the idea” of being Ukrainian.
Pressed later by reporters, he clarified the comment, saying he called it genocide “because it has become increasingly clear that Putin is just trying to erase the idea of being able to be Ukrainian and that the evidence is piling up.”
He added that lawyers can decide if it is genocide, “but it really seems to me to be the case.”
In Washington, a senior US defense official said the Biden administration was planning another military aid package, up to $750 million.
US media reported that the Pentagon was also ready to meet a meeting of major US arms manufacturers on April 13, to discuss ways to accelerate production of existing weapons and develop new ones to help Ukraine.
Among the US and NATO weapons that experts say have greatly helped the Ukrainians are Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and drones, including the new Switchblade so-called “kamikaze” drones. Ukrainian forces also received ammunition, body armor, night vision goggles, first aid kits and other equipment.
In his evening speech, Zelenskiy said evidence of “inhuman cruelty” to women and children in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs continued to surface, including alleged rapes.