Ukrainian officials have said for days that tens of thousands of residents who stayed behind in the strategically important city have seen food and water supplies dwindle amid relentless Russian bombardment.
The officials have accused Russian forces of blocking supplies and shelling and capturing those trying to flee. NBC News has also not been able to independently confirm those accounts.
During a phone call Tuesday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron – who has tried to broker an evacuation from the city – a Kremlin readout said Putin discussed his military’s efforts to “provide urgent humanitarian assistance” and to ensure safe evacuation of civilians. ”
“It was stressed that in order to resolve the grave humanitarian situation in this city, Ukrainian nationalist militants must stop resisting and lay down their arms,” the readout said.
A source at Elysee Palace called Russia’s position on the city “tough” and noted its strategic value: Mariupol would create a land bridge between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and Moscow-backed separatists in the east.
“There is therefore a situation of pressure, tension and harshness, of non-respect of international humanitarian law which is very clear,” the source said, adding that Putin listened to Marcon’s requests and said he would think about them.
The United Nations said Tuesday that at least 1,100 civilians are confirmed to have been killed in a little over a month of fighting in the country. But Joyce Msuya, the organization’s assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the true death toll was likely far higher but nearly impossible to count.
“Cities, like Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and many others – bustling and full of life just one month ago – are encircled, bombed and blocked,” she told the organization’s security council.
Nancy Ing contributed.