Russia invades Ukraine: World seeks answers Mariupol 'chemical attack'

Russia invades Ukraine: World seeks answers Mariupol 'chemical attack'
The New Arab is providing live updates on what's been happening on the ground and additional analysis on the conflict's significance.
14 min read
12 April, 2022
Mariupol has been under siege by the Russian military and allied forces for weeks [Getty- archive]

Western governments are looking into an alleged chemical weapon attack in Ukraine's southern port city of Mariupol.

UK and US intelligence are investigating unverified reports of chemical weapons being used by Russian forces, saying that they are aware that Russia may have already used chemical agents in Mariupol.

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Tuesday that his country was checking unverified information that Russia may have used chemical weapons while besieging Mariupol.

"There is a theory that these could be phosphorous munitions," Malyar said in televised comments, adding: "Official information will come later."

Russia's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Monday that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

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12:01 AM
The New Arab Staff

The New Arab's live coverage of the latest from the Russian invasion of Ukraine concludes for today.

Here are the key developments from Tuesday:

Ukrainians 'surrounded' in Mariupol

Ukrainian forces are "surrounded and blocked" in Mariupol as Russian forces push to take the southeastern port city, Mykhaylo Podolyak, an official from President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, tweets.

Zelensky says he believes "tens of thousands" of people in the city have been killed and makes another plea for weapons.

'Credible information' on chemical weapons

The United States has "credible information" that Russia "may use... chemical agents" in its offensive to take Mariupol, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says.

He tells reporters he is not able to confirm accusations that Moscow has already used chemical weapons there.

The world's chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, says it is "concerned" over reports of the use of chemical weapons in Mariupol.

'All options on table'

Britain's armed forces minister James Heappey tells Sky News that if evidence of chemical weapons use emerges, "all options are on the table" as a response.

"There are some things that are beyond the pale, and the use of chemical weapons will get a response," he says.

Over 400 bodies in Bucha

The mayor of the town of Bucha, where dozens of bodies were found after Russia's withdrawal from northern Ukraine, says more than 400 people have been found dead so far and 25 women have reported being raped.

Zelensky says investigators have received reports of "hundreds of cases of rape" in areas previously occupied by Russian troops, including sexual assaults of small children.

Residents flee east

Residents stream out of east Ukraine's Kramatorsk and Sloviansk as fears grow the cities will be key targets of a major new Russian offensive.

The Pentagon says Russia is building up its forces in the eastern Donbas region, as it switches its focus to a region where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Over 870,000 returnees

More than 870,000 Ukrainians who fled abroad since the start of the war have returned to the country, Ukraine's border force says.

Spokesman Andriy Demchenko says that 25,000 to 30,000 Ukrainians are returning each day, with growing numbers of women, children and elderly among them.

German president 'not wanted' in Kyiv

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he offered to visit Ukraine with other EU leaders but was told by Kyiv his trip was "not wanted".

Steinmeier, a former foreign minister under ex-chancellor Angela Merkel, was long known for championing ties with Moscow. The snub comes as Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under increasing pressure for not having visited Ukraine.

Talks 'extremely difficult': Kyiv

Kyiv says talks with Russia to end the war are "extremely difficult".

"Negotiations are extremely difficult," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak says.

Putin says Ukraine's "inconsistency on fundamental points" is creating "certain difficulties in reaching final agreements".

Join us tomorrow for the latest updates from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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11:28 PM
The New Arab Staff

Russian court sentences journalists to corrective labour for protest violations

Four journalists who worked for a Moscow student magazine were sentenced to two years of corrective labour by a Russian court on Tuesday for encouraging minors to take part in anti-Kremlin protests, Interfax news agency reported.

The independent DOXA outlet was set up by students and university graduates at Moscow's Higher School of Economics in 2017, covering student life, higher education, politics and science.

Police detained the four journalists in April 2021 after raiding the magazine's editorial office.

The raid coincided with a crackdown on allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose arrest and jailing in early 2021 sparked several nationwide protests that police said were illegal and broke up using force.

DOXA said at the time its journalists had been detained over a video clip in which the outlet said it was illegal for universities to expel students for taking part in pro-Navalny protests.

It said it had taken down the video at the request of the state media regulator.

The punishment handed down by the court in Moscow's Dorogomilovsky district does not involve prison time.

The court also forbade the four from administering internet resources for three years, Interfax reported, adding that they will appeal the verdict.

11:03 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

US has 'credible' info Russia may use 'chemical agents' in Ukraine: Blinken

The United States has "credible information" that Russia "may use... chemical agents" in its offensive to take the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

The top US diplomat said he was "not in a position to confirm" recent allegations that Moscow used chemical weapons in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov.

But he continued: "We had credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents that would cause stronger symptoms to weaken and incapacitate entrenched Ukrainian fighters and civilians, as part of the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol."

"We share that information with Ukraine... and we're in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually is happening, so this is a real concern," Blinken told reporters.

Reports first emerged Monday from Ukraine's Azov battalion that a Russian drone had dropped a "poisonous substance" on troops and civilians in Mariupol.

The force claimed people were experiencing respiratory failure and neurological problems.

"Three people have clear signs of poisoning by warfare chemicals, but without catastrophic consequences," battalion leader Andrei Biletsky said in a video message on Telegram.

He accused the Russians of using chemical weapons during a strike on the city's large Azovstal metallurgical plant.

10:54 PM
The New Arab Staff

German president says Kyiv did not want him to visit

A planned visit to Kyiv by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was not welcomed by Ukraine, he said on Tuesday, following a report that President Volodymyr Zelensky was critical of Steinmeier's historic advocacy of Western rapprochement with Russia.

Steinmeier had planned to visit Kyiv with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda and the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia "to send a strong signal of European solidarity with Ukraine there," he told journalists during a visit to Warsaw.

"I was ready for that. But apparently - and I have to admit - that was not wanted in Kyiv," he said, without elaborating.

It was not immediately clear whether the other European leaders would visit without Steinmeier.

10:41 PM
The New Arab Staff

Ukraine's Zelensky proposes swapping pro-Russian politician for prisoners

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday proposed swapping senior pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk for male and female prisoners of war being held by Moscow's forces.

In an early morning address, he said it was "important for our security forces and military forces to consider such a possibility." Ukraine's security services on Tuesday said they had arrested Medvedchuk, who is President Vladimir Putin's closest and most influential ally in Ukraine.

9:06 PM
The New Arab Staff

Russia in final stage of regrouping its forces, says Ukrainian governor

Russia is shelling Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk round the clock and Moscow is now in the final stages of regrouping its forces in the area, Donetsk's governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Tuesday.

He also said that Russian forces were not allowing residents of the besieged port city of Mariupol in the south of the region to leave even in their own cars. Kyrylenko made the comments on national television.

8:47 PM
The New Arab Staff

Kyiv says negotiations with Russia 'extremely difficult'

Kyiv has said that ongoing talks with Russia to end the war were "extremely difficult" after Moscow accused Ukrainian negotiators of slowing down discussions by changing demands.

"Negotiations are extremely difficult. The Russian side adheres to its traditional tactics of public pressure on the negotiation process, including through certain public statements," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said in written comments to reporters.

Talks to end Russia's nearly two-month assault on Ukraine have continued since early in the fighting but offered no concrete results.

Representatives from Moscow and Kyiv have held in-person meetings twice in Turkey, most recently towards the end of March.

"It is clear that the emotional background today in the negotiation process is heavy. It is clear that the Ukrainian delegation works exclusively within a framework that is pro-Ukrainian and transparent," Podolyak wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Tuesday said a lack of consistency in Ukraine's demands in the talks was slowing down progress on ending the military operation.

8:32 PM
The New Arab Staff

Kyiv 'concerned' at Vatican Good Friday gesture with Russia

Ukraine's ambassador to the Holy See expressed "concerns" Tuesday over a plan for Russian and Ukrainian women to carry a cross together during a Good Friday ceremony attended by Pope Francis.

The gesture of peace, against a backdrop of Russia's war in Ukraine, is due to take place during the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at Rome's Colosseum on Friday evening.

Ambassador Andrii Yurash tweeted that he "understands and shares general concern in Ukraine and many other communities about the idea to bring together Ukrainian and Russian women to carry (the) Cross" on Friday.

"Now we are working on the issue trying to explain difficulties of its realisation and possible consequences," he wrote.

The women were set to jointly carry the cross during one portion of the Way of the Cross, the traditional procession that commemorates in 14 different stations Jesus' suffering and death, from his condemnation to his burial.

The ceremony is held on Good Friday, the day of his crucifixion, two days before Easter, the Christian calendar's most important holiday.

8:01 PM
The New Arab Staff

Ukraine's president publishes photo of pro-Russian politician in handcuffs

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday published a photo of prominent pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs after what he said was an operation by security forces.

In February, Kyiv said Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform - For Life party, had escaped from house arrest.

Last year authorities opened a treason case against Medvedchuk, who says Russian President Vladimir Putin is godfather to his daughter, and who denies wrongdoing.

7:43 PM
The New Arab Staff

Pentagon asks top 8 US weapons makers to meet on Ukraine 

The Pentagon will host leaders from the top eight US weapons manufacturers on Wednesday to discuss the industry's capacity to meet Ukraine's weapons needs if the war with Russia lasts years, two people familiar with the meeting said on Tuesday.

Demand for weapons has shot up after Russia's invasion on Feb. 24 spurred US and allied weapons transfers to Ukraine. Resupplying as well as planning for a longer war is expected to be discussed at the meeting, the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon's office of Acquisition and Sustainment, the weapons buyer for the US Department of Defense, will host the 90-minute meeting and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was expected to attend, one of the people said.

The Pentagon has said that the most useful weapons are smaller systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington and allies have been shipping to Ukraine on a nearly daily basis.

The intense usage, as well as the battlefield effectiveness displayed by Ukrainian forces, has driven interest in restocking these weapons.

Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin Corp jointly produce Javelins, while Raytheon makes Stingers.

Other top weapons makers are Boeing Co Northrop Grumman , General Dynamics and L3Harris Technologies.

7:28 PM
The New Arab Staff

OPCW says it's monitoring the situation closely in Ukraine

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is concerned by the recent unconfirmed report of chemical weapons use in Mariupol in Ukraine, an OPCW spokesperson said today.

"The (...) OPCW is monitoring closely the situation in Ukraine," he added.

The OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog also said it had "uninterruptedly been monitoring the situation around declared chemical industrial sites" in Ukraine, which has been under attack by Russia since the end of February.

7:07 PM
The New Arab Staff

400 bodies buried in Ukraine's Severodonetsk since start of war

Around 400 civilians have been buried in the town of Severodonetsk near the frontline in eastern Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, the governor of the Lugansk region said today.

"In Severodonetsk, pits are dug with a tractor and graves are systematised in the register... During the 48 days of the war about 400 burials," Sergiy Gaiday said, referring to civilians.

In the nearby town of Lysychansk, he said, the dead "are buried in mass graves".

In smaller areas on the frontline, "burials are carried out by residents in the yards of residential areas" or "the bodies remain lying in the streets".

5:02 PM
The New Arab & agencies

After reports of Russian troops stealing property in Ukraine, some people in Europe have made alternative protests against Moscow's invasion.

In Finland, one person dumped a washing machine outside the Russian embassy. Washing machines are a key target of Russian soldiers during their reported thefts in Ukraine.

4:37 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Kyiv says negotiations with Russia 'extremely difficult'

Kyiv said Tuesday that ongoing talks with Russia to end the war were "extremely difficult" after Moscow accused Ukrainian negotiators of slowing down discussions by changing position on a key issue.

"Negotiations are extremely difficult. The Russian side adheres to its traditional tactics of public pressure on the negotiation process, including through certain public statements," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said in written comments to reporters.

4:23 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

US cannot confirm use of chemical agents in Ukraine's Mariupol: official

The United States cannot confirm the use of chemical agents in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol at this time, a senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the government was checking unverified information that Russia may have used chemical weapons while besieging Mariupol.

"We cannot confirm the use of chemical agents at this time," the U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters.

The official added the United States had no information to support the movement of chemical agents by Russia in or near Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden last month said Russia's unsubstantiated accusations that Kyiv had biological and chemical weapons suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin was considering using them in Ukraine.

12:26 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Six people found shot dead in basement outside Kyiv: Ukraine prosecutor

Ukrainian prosecutors said Tuesday that six people had been found shot dead in the basement of a building outside Kyiv, the latest discovery fuelling allegations of Russian atrocities.

"The bodies of six civilians with gunshot wounds were found in a basement during an inspection of a private residence," the prosecutor general said in a statement, adding that the killings took place in Brovary outside the capital Kyiv.

8:35 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Ukraine rights group tells top U.N. body that rape used as weapon of war

The United Nations is increasingly hearing accounts of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine, a senior U.N. official told the Security Council on Monday, as a Ukrainian human rights group accused Russian troops of using rape as a weapon of war.

Kateryna Cherepakha, president of La Strada-Ukraine, said her organization's emergency hotlines had received calls accusing Russian soldiers of nine cases of rape, involving 12 women and girls.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," she told the council via video. "We know and see - and we want you to hear our voices - that violence and rape is used now as a weapon of war by Russian invaders in Ukraine."

UN Women Executive Director, Sima Bahous, said that all allegations must by independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability.

"We are increasingly hearing of rape and sexual violence," she told the council. "The combination of mass displacement with the large pressure results of conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags."

8:31 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Russia aims to take Mariupol as part of eastern Ukraine onslaught

Russian troops were aiming to take control of the city of Mariupol on Tuesday, part of an anticipated massive onslaught across eastern Ukraine, as defending forces tried desperately to hold them back.

Russia is believed to be trying to connect occupied Crimea with Moscow-backed separatist territories Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas, and has laid siege to the strategically located city, once home to more than 400,000 people.

Ukrainian forces were "surrounded and blocked", tweeted Myhaylo Podolyak, an official from President Volodymyr Zelensky's office.

But on Monday the Ukrainian army insisted that "the defence of Mariupol continues".

"The connection with the units of the defence forces that heroically hold the city is stable and maintained," the Land Forces of Ukraine wrote on Telegram.

8:25 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Ukraine deputy PM says 9 humanitarian corridors agreed for Tuesday

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said nine humanitarian corridors had been agreed for Tuesday to evacuate civilians, including from the besieged city of Mariupol by private cars.

Vereshchuk said in a statement that five of the nine evacuation corridors were from Ukraine's Luhansk region in the east of the country, which Ukrainian officials have said is under heavy shelling.

Mariupol has been besieged for weeks [Getty]