The mayor of the besieged strategic city of Mariupol has described a devastated city in which “thousands” have died and around 90 percent of 2,600 residential buildings have been destroyed or damaged in the monthold Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, a deputy prime minister for occupied territories said on March 27 that agreed humanitarian corridors included residents fleeing that southeastern city in private vehicles, marking hopeful progress after an impasse one day earlier.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces controlled some neighborhoods and were entering “deeper into the city” of almost half a million people before the war but Mariupol remains “under the control of Ukrainian armed forces.”
“Mariupol needs a complete evacuation,” Boychenko told the local UNIAN news agency in an interview published overnight.
Boychenko said about 40 percent Mariupol’s affected residential buildings are now uninhabitable.
In a reference to Russian forces surrounding the city, Boychenko said that “there are suburbs of the city which, of course, they took control of,” adding that “the city is encircled and that circle is of course shrinking.”
On March 27, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk complained that while 10 of 11 “humanitarian corridors” agreed between the fighting sides had been functioning, stops at a checkpoint in Vasylivka were preventing Mariupol residents in private vehicles from escaping toward Zaporizhzhya.
But later she said two corridors had been agreed for residents to flee frontline cities, including Mariupol.
There was no immediate confirmation whether residents were making their way through the corridor.
Boychenko cited a Ukrainian government estimate of “from 20,000 to 30,000” Mariupol residents having been forcibly sent to territory under Russian control.
In western Ukraine, a fire continued to rage at an oil-storage facility in Lviv following multiple Russian air strikes the previous day that marked the most significant attack on the city since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian government adviser warned that Russian troop movements suggested Putin’s war planners might be preparing a new push with fresh troops days after Ukraine’s defenders reported pushing back Russian forces in a number of areas.
And British intelligence said Russian advances in the eastern part of the country suggested Moscow was hoping to encircle Ukrainian forces fighting in and near areas that have been held by Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbas region.
Local officials said four missiles hit the outskirts of Lviv and another strike damaged infrastructure, injuring at least five people but causing no deaths in a city that has become a haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians about 60 kilometers from the Polish border.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on March 27 that it had struck what it called military targets in Lviv with high-precision cruise missiles.
It said it hit a fuel depot and a Lviv plant that was used to make military repairs.
“The armed forces of the Russian Federation continue offensive actions as part of the special military operation,” it added, using the term that Russian officials use — and insist that Russians also use, on threat of jailing or fines — to describe the full-scale invasion launched against its neighbor on February 24.
At the time of the bombardments, U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting Poland in a show of support for Ukrainian defenders and refugees, and to stress NATO’s determination to defend alliance members’ territory.
Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a butcher” and warned of “a long fight ahead.”
He also declared in seemingly improvised remarks about Putin that “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
A Putin spokesman said afterward that Russia’s leadership “is not for Biden to decide.”
“The president of Russia is elected by Russians,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov added.
Despite its strident condemnation of Putin’s full-scale war on Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Jerusalem on March 27, “we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter.”
The top U.S. diplomat said Biden’s statement was intended to stress that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”
That reading of Biden’s comments during his visit to Poland on March 26 echoed earlier, unattributed statements from the White House suggesting the unscripted remark was misunderstood.
Analysts say Biden’s comment could be seized by the Kremlin to further tighten the screws on the opposition and rally support for Putin, who has repeatedly accused the United States of seeking “regime change” in Russia.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who continues to hold talks with Putin to end the fighting, called on leaders to use caution in their words and actions when referring to the war in Ukraine. “I wouldn’t use this type of wording,” Macron said on March 27 on French TV.
“We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective. If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things — neither with words nor actions,” he said.
Biden also called Putin “a butcher,” a “war criminal,” and a “murderous dictator.”
Putin has imposed an unprecedented post-Soviet clampdown on criticism and dissent inside Russia as the Ukrainian invasion has run into fierce Ukrainian resistance, and the international community has imposed massive financial, trade, travel, and diplomatic punishments.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said early on March 27 that Russia’s “full-scale armed aggression” was continuing.
And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged NATO to provide his country with “just 1 percent” of its arms and questioned whether the alliance was intimidated by Russia.
“We’ve already been waiting 31 days,” said a visibly frustrated Zelenskiy, who has issued regular video addresses from Kyiv throughout the fighting.
An adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, Vadym Denysenko, said on March 27 that Russia had begun destroying Ukrainian fuel- and food-storage facilities.
The Ukrainian government will have to disperse such stockpiles as a result, he said.
He also said that Russia was bringing troops to the Ukrainian border on rotation, suggesting Moscow could be planning new offensives to advance its invasion.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment released early on March 27 that Russian forces advancing southward from the Kharkiv area and northward from Mariupol appeared to be trying to surround Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country.
Some swaths of that region — known as the Donbas — have been in the hands of separatists since 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and the armed separatists seized control of some regional administration facilities.
The British intelligence analysis said Ukrainian counterattacks in northern Ukraine left those battlefields “largely static.”
It said Russia was relying heavily on “stand-off” missiles launched from Russian territory to reduce risk to its own forces. The British warned that limited stocks of such weapons could prompt Russian planners to “revert to less sophisticated missiles or [accept] more risk to their aircraft.”
Western intelligence has warned that Russian forces involved in the largely stalled offensive have grown more reliant on indiscriminate bombing instead of major ground operations, in a shift that could result in more Ukrainian civilian deaths.
WATCH: Since the start of the Russian invasion, all public hospitals in the country have been operating under martial law and have been working 24/7. Some medical workers have moved their families into the hospitals with them, while volunteers have arrived to help.
Efforts to evacuate civilian populations have continued and Ukrainian forces have reported counteroffensives to push back Russian troops in some southern areas, in particular.
Nearly 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the invasion began on February 24, around half of them to Poland, and many more are displaced.
Yuriy Fomichev, the mayor of Slavutych, near the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, announced on March 26 that that city had been occupied by Russian troops after its defenses were overcome.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, local officials and residents expressed fears that the Russian blockade and bombing from long distance risked making them the “next Mariupol.”
A resident told AP from a dying mobile phone that the city was without power, running water, or heating, and medicines were running out daily.