'Entire city wiped out' by Russian bombardment as more evacuation routes attacked

12 March 2022, 09:00 | Updated: 12 March 2022, 22:58

An official has said the city of Volnovakha no longer exists after more than two weeks of attacks
An official has said the city of Volnovakha no longer exists after more than two weeks of attacks. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

An entire city has been wiped out by Russian attacks, officials have said today, as Russian troops continue to violate ceasefires and shoot at fleeing Ukrainian civilians.

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The southeastern city of Volnovakha "no longer exists" because much of its infrastructure has been destroyed and most of the population have fled, according to the governor of the Donetsk region.

"In general, Volnovakha with its infrastructure as such no longer exists," Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV channel Direct.

But he added fighting is continuing in the area to prevent a Russian encirclement.

The city of Mariupol has also sustained extensive damage as a result of continued Russian attacks on Saturday.

And Ukraine has accused Russia of shooting at a convoy of civilians trying to flee near the city of Kyiv, killing seven people including a child.

Ukraine's Ministry of Defence said Russia had breached a "green corridor" that had been agreed to evacuate civilians out of the village of Peremoha.

"Russians shot at a column of women and children in Kyiv region, who were trying to evacuate along a previously agreed "green" corridor," it said on Twitter.

"The result of this brutal act - seven dead. One of them is a child."

Ukraine intelligence said after the attack civilians were forced to turn back and were now not being allowed out of the village, Reuters reported.

Russia has been accused of violating agreed ceasefires numerous times, but Putin has denied targeting civilians.

It comes after a French official said Putin "did not appear ready to end the war" after a 75-minute conversation with French president Emmanuel Macron and German leader Olaf Scholz.

The pair had called for a ceasefire to allow for negotiations.

In the latest intelligence update, the British Ministry of Defence said: "President Putin has publicly welcomed the recruitment of "16,000 mostly Middle Eastern volunteers" to support his invasion of Ukraine. Syrian mercenaries have deployed alongside Russian proxy forces in Libya since late 2020.

"This follows earlier reporting that Russia was also planning to deploy experienced mercenaries from Russian Private Military Companies to support the invasion. Russia this week has also been forced to acknowledge the use of conscript soldiers in its operations against Ukraine.

"As losses mount, Russia will be forced to draw on alternative sources to reinforce their overstretched regular forces."

Earlier, new satellite images suggested Russian forces were shelling at residential areas as a huge armoured convoy moved to encircle Kyiv.

The capital was also being approached from the east.

It is thought the column, which measured some 40 miles long as it failed to move much for days, has now dispersed in a bid to surround the city and the bulk of forces there are just 25km from the centre.

Inside the capital, defenders have promised the Russians will face a "fortress" and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused to flee.

He said Russia could only take Kyiv if it "razes it to the ground" and said: "We know 100 per cent that we will win."

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Photos released by satellite imaging firm Maxar showed flashes in Ozera village, near Antonov International Airport, north-west of Kyiv.

"Using multispectral imagery bands on WorldView-2, we can see a bright muzzle flash coming from one of the artillery guns while smoke comes from 5 other guns, evidence they had been recently fired," the company said on Twitter.

It added that there were indications Russian forces were "actively firing artillery towards residential areas" as other images appeared to show burning homes.

But the Ukrainians continue to mount a stiff resistance. Footage posted to Twitter by the Armed Forces of Ukraine account showed another armoured column getting ambushed, forcing the units to flee the road under missile attack.

An earlier update from the British Ministry of Defence said: "Fighting north-west of Kyiv continues with the bulk of Russian ground forces now around 25 kilometres from the centre of the city.

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"Elements of the large Russian column north of Kyiv have dispersed. This is likely to support a Russian attempt to encircle the city.

"It could also be an attempt by Russia to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counter attacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces.

"Beyond Kyiv, the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling."

There are fears over the effects of Russia intensifying its attacks on cities. This week, hospitals were bombed in strikes that horrified the world.

There are worries of a humanitarian disaster in Mariupol, the southern coastal city, which was surrounded and cut off from new supplies of food and medicine. Its authorities said more than 1,500 people have died in 12 days of being besieged.

Ukraine has warned that Belarus, the close ally of Russia, could join the fighting and a pretext for their forces to invade was being sought.

Kyiv has also warned, along with the UK and US, that Russian claims about chemical weapons could be setting the stage for Moscow to deploy such weapons in the war.