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Ukraine’s top diplomat says Mariupol “doesn’t exist anymore”

▶ Watch Video: Ukrainian foreign minister says Mariupol “doesn’t exist anymore” after Russian siege

Washington — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Sunday that the port city of Mariupol “doesn’t exist anymore” after coming under siege by Russian forces for an unrelenting seven weeks.

“The situation in Mariupol is both dire militarily and heartbreaking. The city doesn’t exist anymore,” Kuleba said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “The remainings of the Ukrainian army and large group of civilians are basically encircled by the Russian forces. They continue their struggle, but it seems from the way the Russian army behaves in Mariupol, they decided to raze the city to the ground at any cost.”

Russian troops have suffered a series of setbacks since President Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine in late February, with his forces failing to take Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv and the Russian navy losing the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.

Ukrainian security agents also captured Viktor Medvedchuk, an oligarch who was the Kremlin’s main agent of influence in Kyiv, in another loss for Putin.

Kuleba said that as a citizen of Ukraine, Medvedchuk will have “all procedural rights.”

“His future will be decided as part of, on the one hand, legal process and on the other hand, the political process. We do not exclude any political options,” he said. “But as I said, we are a country of the rule of law. And first and foremost, he will face responsibility for the crimes he committed against Ukraine.”

But Mariupol, a key port city for Ukraine, appeared on the brink of falling to Russian forces Sunday, which would give Moscow a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula. The Russian military estimated roughly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters are still at the Azovstal steel plant, providing a remaining pocket of resistance.

A view of damaged buildings and vehicles in Mariupol, Ukraine on April 13, 2022.

Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Officials estimate roughly 21,000 have been killed by Russian troops in Mariupol, and 120,000 people are still in the city. Before the war, the city’s population was 450,000.

Echoing comments from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about possible talks with Russia, Kuleba said the fall of Mariupol could significantly hamper any negotiations.

“After Bucha, it became particularly difficult to continue talking with the Russians,” he said, referring to atrocities against civilians committed by Russian troops in the city outside of Kyiv. “But as my president mentioned, Mariupol may be a red line.”

With Russia appearing to be nearing victory in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials are also preparing for intensified attacks in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have control of some territory. Kuleba said he also expects “desperate attempts of the Russian forces … to finish with Mariupol at any cost,” and for missile attacks on Kyiv and other cities to continue.

To bolster Ukraine’s defenses in the war, the U.S. has sent more than $2.6 billion in security aid, with President Biden last week approving an additional $800 million in weapons, ammunition and other equipment.

The U.S. is also considering sending a high-level official to Kyiv as a show of support, though the White House has repeatedly said there are no plans for Mr. Biden to visit the country.

Kuleba praised the president for the military aid that has been sent to Ukraine and said a visit by Mr. Biden would be an “important message of support” to the Ukrainians.

“A personal meeting between two presidents could also pave the way for new supplies and of U.S. weapons to Ukraine and also for discussions on the political- possible political settlement of this conflict,” he said.



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