Ukrainians' 'last stand' to battle for Mariupol as city expected to 'fall within 24 hours' to Russia

It's not the threat of weapons that are worrying Ukrainians in the east, but that forces defending the city of Mariupol say today is their last stand, reports ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith in Kyiv

The besieged and strategic port city of Mariupol is expected to fall to Russian hands within the next 24 hours and that Monday will be the "last stand", Ukrainian forces have said.

The 36th Marine Brigade, that has been defending Mariupol for Ukraine for the past six weeks, has announced they are running out of ammunition and they are surrounded, reports ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith.

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It said in a statement that it has resorted to sending in cooks and members of the orchestra to fight because they have run out of infantry.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "tens of thousands" have died in the besieged city, as he appealed to South Korean lawmakers for arms ahead of another Russian offensive in the east of the country.

In a video address, the president said: "The occupiers concentrated tens of thousands of soldiers and a huge amount of equipment to try to strike again.

"The worst situation is in Mariupol, in our southern port city, which has been blocked by Russian troops since March 1. It was a city of half a million. Half a million people...

President Zelenskyy urged South Korean lawmakers for weapons to defend eastern Ukraine Credit: AP

"They tried to capture it in the most brutal way - just to destroy everything in the city. Mariupol is destroyed. There are tens of thousands of dead. But even despite this, the Russians do not stop the offensive. They want to make Mariupol a demonstratively destroyed city."

Officials have been warning for weeks that the humanitarian situation in the besieged city is worsening and his been cut off from the rest of Ukraine, with food, medicine and water unable to come in and out of the city, while residents try to survive without electricity.

Oleg, 56, mourns for his mother Inna, 86, killed in Bucha Credit: AP

Regular attempts to evacuate the city have resulted in failure with Ukraine accusing Russia of firing on refugee convoys. Moscow has also been accused of committing war crimes in the city.

Meanwhile in its latest update on the situation, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) warned that Russian troops could use phosphorus in their bid to capture Mariupol.

"Russian forces prior use of phosphorous munitions in the Donetsk Oblast raises the possibility of their future employment in Mariupol as fighting for the city intensifies," it said in a tweet.

White phosphorous burns at extremely high temperatures and is often used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke. It can cause horrific burns, respiratory damage, infection, shock, and organ failure, according to Human Rights Watch.

Three weeks ago, ITV News filmed Russians dropping, what some experts believed, could be white phosphorous bombs on Irpin, a town on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.

The MoD continued that in recent days: "Russian shelling has continued in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with Ukrainian forces repulsing several assaults resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles, and artillery equipment.

"Russia’s continued reliance on unguided bombs decreases their ability to discriminate when targeting and conducting strikes while greatly increasing the risk of further civilian casualties."

In his nightly address, President Zelenskyy warned that Russian troops are likely to ramp up their attack on eastern Ukraine in the coming days and that the coming week would be as crucial as any in the war as he urged Western leaders to do more.

“Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state,” Mr Zelenskyy said as he accused Russia of trying to evade responsibility for war crimes.

“When people lack the courage to admit their mistakes, apologise, adapt to reality and learn, they turn into monsters. And when the world ignores it, the monsters decide that it is the world that has to adapt to them. Ukraine will stop all this,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing war crimes against civilians, including airstrikes on hospitals, a missile attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station on Friday, while at least 67 bodies were unearthed from a mass grave near a church in Bucha.

ITV News has also heard accounts of Ukrainian civilians and prisoners being killed by Russian soldiers retreating from occupied towns and villages, with one woman recalling how she witnessed her nephew shot dead while he had his hands up.

ITV News team Peter Smith, Mike Field, John Angier, and Kseniia Kozhushko film in the villages devastated by war, where they heard accounts of Russian troops shooting civilians, including young boys

This video contains distressing images

Mr Zelenskyy's calls for renewed support from the West came as the World Bank said Ukraine’s economy will shrink by more than 45% this year due to Russia’s invasion, which has shut down half of the country’s businesses, choked off imports and exports, and damaged a vast amount of critical infrastructure.

It added that unprecedented sanctions imposed by Western allies in response to the war are plunging Russia into a deep recession and will lop off more than a tenth of its economy in 2022.

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As the war shifts south and east, President Zelenskyy called on Western nations to offer weapons, in particular President Joe Biden, and said Ukraine’s fate depends on whether the US will help match a surge in Russian weaponry.

“To be honest, whether we will be able to (survive) depends on this,” Zelenskyy said in a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday night, speaking through a translator.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need."

Mr Zelenskyy said he was grateful to Mr Biden for US military aid to date but added that he “long ago” forwarded a list of specific items Ukraine desperately needed.

His comments come after the Russian military said on Monday that it destroyed a shipment of air defense missile system- provided by an unspecified European country- on the southern outskirts of the city of Dnipro.

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Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers are meeting to weigh the effectiveness of the bloc’s response to Russia's invasion as concern grows over Moscow's preparations for a major attack in the east.

The ministers will hold talks with the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor-General Karim A.A. Khan, as Western pressure mounts to hold to account those responsible for any war crimes in Ukraine.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer held "direct, open and tough" talks with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday- the EU's first leader to meet him since the start of the war.

A spokesperson for Mr Nehammer confirmed that the meeting went ahead at Putin's official Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, with the discussions reportedly lasting around 90 minutes.

The Australian leader, who has expressed solidarity with Ukraine over the invasion, said his most important message to the Russian leader was the fighting has to end as "in a war there are only losers on both sides".

Experts say the next phase of the battle may begin with a full-scale offensive whose outcome could determine the course of the conflict, which has flattened cities, killed untold thousands and isolated Moscow economically and politically.

Russian military are preparing to focus on expanding control in Ukraine's east.

Western officials have warned that Putin could double or triple the number of Russian troops in the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking, industrial region in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region since 2014 and declared some territory there independent.

“I would imagine that, at outside estimates, what you’re looking at is a force which is probably the Russians looking to double or even treble the amount of force that they bring into that Donbas area," one official said.

“But I would note that that is going to take some considerable time to bring them up to that sort of number.

“And even when they bring themselves to that number, there is a question over how effectively they can bring those forces into the battle."

There are suggestions that the Russian leader wants to take the region before May 9- when Russia usually marks the Soviet Union's WWII victory against Nazi Germany with military parades in Moscow.

Newly released Maxar satellite imagery collected on Friday showed an eight-mile (13-kilometre) convoy of military vehicles headed south to the Donbas region through the Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk.Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its troops have bombarded government-held territory. The anticipated offensive in the east and south could end up excising a vast swath of land from Ukraine.