Ukraine has accused Russia of wiping some of its cities off the map after its defense minister said the Kremlin’s siege of Mariupol amounted to “genocide”.
Oleksii Reznikov made the comments during a visit to London, where he met his British counterpart Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday.
While trying to muster more Western support, Mr Reznikov warned that Vladimir Putin “would inevitably go further” unless he was arrested.
“Several small towns in Ukraine have simply been wiped off the face of the Earth. The last time such destruction happened in Europe was during World War II,” Reznikov said.
“Moscow is afraid of our army so they are fighting civilians. This is state terrorism,” he added.
In particular, the Ukrainian Defense Minister highlighted the plight of the 400,000 citizens of Mariupol, who “were surrounded, without food, water, light, air” for three weeks. According to a local estimate, up to 20,000 people may have died so far in the beleaguered port city.
Mr Reznikov said Russia deliberately targeted a hospital and theater there, where hundreds of women and children had taken refuge.
The Ukrainian minister also hailed the bravery of Mariupol residents, saying their city was preventing Russia from making further advances across the country.
“Thanks to their superhuman dedication and courage, tens of thousands of lives across Ukraine have been saved. Today Mariupol saves Kyiv, Dnipro and Odessa,” he said.
His words came after his government refused to hand over Mariupol to the Russians on Monday morning, saying it would continue to fight invading forces.
“There can be no question of any surrender” in the southeastern city, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Attempts to create humanitarian corridors out of the besieged city still fail, she added.
“What I saw, I hope no one will ever see,” said Manolis Androulakis, Greece’s consul general in Mariupol, after fleeing the city. He compared it to places like Guernica and Aleppo which had been “completely destroyed by war”.
There are fears that Russia is stepping up the intensity of its attack on the city, after one of its supply ships landed for the first time in the nearby port of Berdyansk on Monday.
Elsewhere in the country, Russian forces reportedly threw stun grenades at unarmed protesters in the city of Kherson on Monday, firing shots to disperse them.
“Russian security forces came running up, started throwing stun grenades into the crowd and firing,” the Ukrainian armed forces said in a statement.
Footage posted online appeared to support the claim, as it showed several hundred Ukrainian protesters running for cover as projectiles landed around them in the port city’s Freedom Square. One person was injured in the attack, according to Ukrainian authorities.
To the west, a Russian airstrike reportedly hit civilian homes in Odessa, the first time it had happened in the Black Sea city in the 26-day conflict. No one was killed by the blast, the city council said.
In the capital, eight people were killed overnight by a Russian attack, which destroyed a shopping center in kyiv. Rescue teams searched the rubble after the deadliest attack to date in the city.
Following the shelling, authorities imposed a one-and-a-half-day curfew in the city from Monday evening. Russian forces are still 15 miles from the city center, British military intelligence suggests.
With the UN estimating that more than 900 civilians were killed during the war, the EU has charged Mr Putin with war crimes.
However, despite the implementation of a series of sanctions against Russia, European foreign ministers have not yet agreed to stop buying Russian energy. Germany is among the countries that argue the bloc is too dependent on its oil to carry out an embargo.