Nearly 5,000 killed in Mariupol since start of Russian siege – mayor’s office

LVIV, Ukraine, March 28 (Reuters) – Almost 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol since Russian forces laid siege to it, a spokesperson for the mayor said on Monday.

It was not immediately clear how Mayor Vadym Boichenko had calculated the toll from a month of Russian bombardment that has devastated the city and trapped tens of thousands of residents without power and with few supplies.

Data released by Boichenko’s office showed 90% of buildings had been damaged and 40% destroyed, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens and factories.

About 140,000 people had fled the city on the Sea of Azov before the Russian siege began and 150,000 have exited since then, leaving 170,000 still there, according to the data, which Reuters could not immediately verify.

Boichenko, who is no longer in Mariupol, had said on national television earlier on Monday that about 160,000 civilians were still trapped in the city.

“The situation in the city remains difficult. People are beyond the line of humanitarian catastrophe,” Boichenko said. “We need to completely evacuate Mariupol.”

He added: “The Russian Federation is playing with us. We are in the hands of the invaders.”

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, denies targeting civilians and blames Ukraine for repeated failure to agree on safe corridors for trapped residents.

Ukraine announced no plan to create safe corridors in the country on Monday, making clear it feared Russian attacks.

“Our intelligence has reported possible ‘provocations’ by the occupiers on the humanitarian corridor routes. So, for reasons of public safety, we are not opening any humanitarian corridors today,” said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies have called that a baseless pretext for an unprovoked invasion.

Mariupol is widely seen as a strategic prize for the Russian invaders to create a bridge between Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and two separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.