he city of Mariupol has now been reduced to rubble and ruins amid heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops, an ombudsman for human rights said.
Speaking with RFE/RL, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova said there is nothing left of the city besides the ruins of buildings and the Azovstal factory, which is serving as the epicenter in the battle for control of Mariupol.
“A city called Mariupol, in fact, no longer exists. There are ruins and there is an Azovstal factory, the underground bunkers of which are sheltered by both civilians and the military,” Denisova said.
The ombudsman also accused Russians of mistreating Ukrainian prisoners of war, adding that some have been forced to sign documents saying they were treated well by Russian forces while in captivity.
“They were lying face down on cold ground for several days. Blindfolded and forced out of the cold, they were forced to sing Russian patriotic songs in public, for their captives. The interrogations lasted several times a day, for several hours, they were beaten mercilessly at intervals … Finally, they signed the documents, where it was said that they were treated well and humanely in captivity and there was no pressure,” Denisova added.
The ombudsman’s remarks come after Russian forces reportedly entered the Azovstal complex Tuesday, just days after Ukrainian officials successfully evacuated about 150 civilians from the area.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday stressed the importance of evacuating the remaining civilians out of the plant with fighting now inside the complex. It is believed that there are still between 200 and 300 civilians inside the plant, including children.
“We are negotiating and hope to continue rescuing people from Azovstal, from Mariupol. There are still civilians. Women, children,” Zelensky said in an overnight address.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later dismissed reports that Russian soldiers had broken into the steel plant, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to avoid storming the complex was still in place. He also slammed Ukrainian media for promoting a “huge amount of lies and fakes.”
Russian soldiers reached Mariupol on Feb. 25, a day after Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine.