Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Chemical weapons threat raises stakes for Mariupol’s last stand

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The Ukrainian city of Mariupol is on the verge of falling to Russian forces after a brutal siege that has lasted more than 40 days. Recent reports of a chemical weapons attack are raising fears in the city, but is the threat real?

After more than 40 days spent defending the city of Mariupol, the 36 Marines Unit of the Ukrainian Army posted a message to Facebook on Monday. “Today will probably be the last fight, as the ammo is running out,” they wrote. “Some [of us] will die, some will be captured. I beg you to remember the Marines.”

In the past six weeks, Russian forces have worked to surround and suffocate the port city in southeast Ukraine. Humanitarian corridors have been blocked. Civilians have been attacked. Schools and hospitals have been bombed. Satellite images show a once-thriving city largely reduced to rubble.

According to Mayor Vadym Boychenko, 90 percent of the infrastructure in the city has been destroyed, and the death toll could surpass 20,000. On April 11, he said corpses were “carpeted through the streets”.

On the same day, a new threat emerged. Ukraine’s Azov battalion reported that a Russian drone had dropped a “poisonous substance” on troops and civilians in Mariupol, causing respiratory failure and neurological problems.

“The threat of chemical weapons is real,” Russian military strategy expert Katarzyna Zysk told FRANCE 24. “The civilian population and the government have good reasons to be very afraid of that.”

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