Russian attack risks chemical spill that could cause ‘total extinction of life’

Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of besieged Ukrainian city Mariupol, has warned that Russia's attacks on the Azovstal steelworks could cause a major environmental crisis with thousands of tons of toxic chemicals escaping into the sea.

He says that the massive Russian bombardment – thought to include outlawed white phosphorous as well as powerful thermobaric warheads – could have damaged a facility holding tens of thousands of tonnes of concentrated hydrogen sulphide solution.

If the chemical is released, Boychenko told Ukrainian news channel EspresoTV, it could cause a “world-class environmental catastrophe” that would mean “the total extinction of life” in the Sea of Azov – the large area of the Black Sea between Crimea and Russia.

Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers left the Azovstal steelworks early this week, Russia has claimed, ending a siege that kept an estimated 20,000 Russian troops tied up for over 80 days.

“The Supreme Military Command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of their personnel,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement, adding “Mariupol's defenders are heroes of our time."

The Russian defence ministry says that 959 Ukrainians have surrendered, 80 of them injured.

The captives are being taken to a Russian prison colony there are fears that they could be put on trial as “Nazi war criminals”.

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However, there is still a small resistance force in and around the four square-mile steelworks, and hostilities in the area have not yet ended.

Boychenko said Vladimir Putin had killed more than 20,000 people in Mariupol – twice as many casualties as were inflicted by Hitler's forces during the Second World War.

Last week, Ukraine accused Russian forces of dropping white phosphorus bombs on the steel works, in defiance of international law.

Retired Russian colonel Mikhail Khodaryonok said on Russian TV this week that his country faced "full geopolitical isolation” as a result of Western sanctions.

Saying that "virtually the entire world is against us,” Khodaryonok warned that, for Russia, the military situation is likely to "frankly, get worse”.

While Russian forces now effectively control the smoking ruins of Mariupol, it will be a long time, if ever, before Putin’s dream of absorbing the city into a greater Russia can be fulfilled.

The remaining population is fiercely hostile to the invaders. Former resident Anya Pozhidaeva told the Daily Telegraph: “Mariupol is the city where I was born, grew up, studied, worked, had friends.

“I had everything, I lived well. Until they came to ‘liberate’ us, when my life turned into hell.

“They came to our territory, took everything from us: friends, relatives and loved ones, our favourite work, home, and destroyed all our dreams. And they say they control Mariupol. I only have anger and hatred for them.”

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