By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
LVIV, Ukraine, March 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Friday the situation in Mariupol was now critical as Russian forces tightened their noose around the Black Sea port city and the death toll from Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade reached almost 1,600.
Russia’s defence ministry was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Mariupol was now completely surrounded, and Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately preventing civilians getting out and stopping humanitarian convoys getting in.
Russian shelling prevented evacuees from leaving the city again on Friday.
Interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko expressed doubt that the latest attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to Mariupol would succeed, and a new effort to evacuate civilians appeared to have failed.
“The situation is critical,” Denysenko said.
The city council said 1,582 civilians had been killed in Mariupol since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb.
24. Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and unseat leaders it calls neo-Nazis.
Ukrainian defenders in the city “continue to successfully dispose of all the Russian trash that came into our country” and virtually destroyed an entire Russian tactical group on Friday, the military said in a Facebook post.
Reuters was unable to corroborate the claim.
Residents of Mariupol, a strategically important city of over 400,000 in peacetime, have been without power or water for more than a week. Attempts to arrange a local ceasefire and safe passage out have failed, with each side blaming the other.
Officials in Mariupol said Russian shelling was relentless on Friday.
Tass quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying all bridges and roads into Mariupol had been destroyed or mined by Ukrainian forces.
Three people were killed in an attack that demolished a hospital in Mariupol this week, Ukrainian officials said, and supplies have been running low for days.
“The whole world must unite to save Mariupol. The city is a humanitarian catastrophe. The dead are not even being buried here,” said Maksym Zhorin, a former commander of the far-right militia known as the Azov Battalion who is in the city.
Among those trapped in Mariupol are 86 Turkish citizens, including 34 children, who are sheltering in a mosque, Ukrainian authorities said.
(Additonal reporting by Max Hunder and David Ljunggren; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and David Gregorio)