Ukraine defends Mariupol against ongoing Russian attacks with 'only ruins' of city left

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on the continued devastation being inflicted on the besieged city of Mariupol as the Ukrainian president tries to rally support from leaders around the world 

Ukrainian forces have continued to fight off Russia's efforts to occupy Mariupol, although President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said "only ruins" are left in the battered city.

Thousands have managed to flee the port city of Mariupol, where the bombardment has cut off electricity, water and food supplies and severed communication with the outside world.

The city council said on Tuesday that more than 1,100 people who had escaped the siege were in a convoy of buses heading to a city northwest of Mariupol.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol is a crucial port for Ukraine and lies along a stretch of territory between Russia and Crimea. The siege has cut the city off from the sea and allowed Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea.

But it’s not clear how much of the city Russia holds, with fleeing residents saying fighting continues street by street.

How badly is the Russian offensive going? ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports live from Kyiv

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to give the Pentagon’s assessment, said Russian ships in the Sea of Azov were shelling Mariupol.

The official said there were about seven Russian ships in that area, including a minesweeper and a couple of landing vessels. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said that troops defending the city had destroyed a Russian patrol boat and electronic warfare complex. Britain’s Defence Ministry said Ukrainian forces “continue to repulse Russian attempts to occupy” Mariupol.

President Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that the city had been utterly destroyed in the Russian onslaught. As part of a series of addresses to foreign legislatures in a bid to drum up support for Ukraine, he described the devastation in Mariupol to Italian lawmakers.

“Imagine a Genoa completely burned down,” he said, citing an Italian port city of a similar size.

President Zelenskyy addresses Italy's lawmakers.

Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, and they have not given an update since.

President Zelenskyy also said to Italian MPs that Ukraine is on the brink of surviving its war with Russia.

He insisted that Ukraine will not succumb to the Russians - words that came as United Nations chief Antonio Guterres told reporters the war is “unwinnable” and that Ukraine "cannot be conquered city by city, street by street".

Similarly, United States National Security advisor Jake Sullivan said Moscow will never subjugate Ukraine or its people. However, another Western official added that Russian troops have not been pushed back from established positions, and had the capability to keep up a grinding war of attrition for some time.

Despite President Zelenskyy's optimistic assessment of the invasion, the Ukrainian leader warned Italian MPs that Europe’s security is at risk if Russia advances.

Late on Monday, President Joe Biden warned there is an increasing possibility that Vladimir Putin may resort to chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, as the Russian leader's "back is against the wall."

Listen to the latest analysis on the Ukraine crisis in ITV News' podcast

The US president also warned that Russia could be preparing to launch cyber attacks against critical infrastructure as the war in Ukraine continues.

Mr Biden said he believes Russia is preparing new "false flag" attacks - an act committed with the intent of blaming the other side and escalating the situation.

"They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons," Mr Biden said, adding that Russia was alleging the US also has them in Europe, something he said was "simply not true."

"That's a clear sign he's considering using both of those.

"He's already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful about what's about to come. He knows there'll be severe consequences because of the united NATO's front, but the point is it's real."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected Mr Biden's warning that Russia may be planning a cyberattack against the United States.

What is guiding the decisions over intervention in the Ukraine war which are being made by Western leaders? US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports live from Washington

According to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, President Biden plans to announce new sanctions against Russia on Thursday while in Brussels for meetings with NATO and European allies.

Mr Biden's tasks include dealing with some NATO members that are pushing for more involvement directly in the fighting.

This includes proposals by Poland, which borders Ukraine, for peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, in an overnight address, President Zelenskyy said he was prepared to discuss a commitment from Ukraine not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.

Speaking about the option to not seek NATO membership in a bid to agree a ceasefire with Russia, Mr Zelenskyy said the option was a "compromise" and called for direct talks between himself and Mr Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has renewed his calls for a meeting between himself and Vladimir Putin. Credit: AP

Denied an easy and early victory, Russia’s military is reverting to the scorched earth tactics of its past offensives in Syria and Chechnya.

Its military is pounding population centres with airstrikes and artillery barrages that leave civilians like those in the port city of Mariupol unable to safely venture out for food or water, to bury the dead or to flee.