The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have said they are working to verify unconfirmed reports on social media that Russian forces used a “poisonous substance” in the long-contested southern city of Mariupol.
The Azov Regiment, a neo-Nazi unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, said on Telegram that Russia used a “poisonous substance of an unknown origin” in the port city. The regiment has been defending war-torn Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that would provide Russia a land corridor to Crimea if captured, since it took control from pro-Russian separatist forces in 2014.
“Russian occupation forces used a poisonous substance of unknown origin against Ukrainian military and civilians in the city of Mariupol, which was dropped from an enemy [unmanned aerial vehicle],” the Azov Regiment posted on April 11. “The victims have respiratory failure, vestibulo-atactic syndrome. The consequences of using an unknown substance are being clarified.”
The regiment didn’t say that chemical weapons had been used, but Ukrainian MP Ivanna Klympush with the European Solidarity party said on Twitter that as the regiment claimed that victims were experiencing respiratory failure, the substance is “most likely” chemical weapons.
1/2 #RU 1,5hr ago used unknown substance in #Mariupol. Victims experience respiratory failure,
vestib.-atactic syndrome.Most likely chem.weapons!This is red line beyond which 🌎 must destroy economy of despotism.We demand full embargo on all fuels from #RU &heavy weapons 2UA now!
— Ivanna Klympush (@IKlympush) April 11, 2022
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video address on Monday didn’t say whether chemical weapons had been used in Mariupol, but said of the claims, “we treat this with the utmost seriousness.”
An aide to Mariupol’s mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, separately highlighted that the reports had not been verified.
When pressed by U.S. media, the Pentagon said that it is aware of the reports.
“We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in statements to outlets CNBC and Axios. “These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”
The UK and Australia also said that they were working to verify the reports.
Responding to the claims, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that officials are “working urgently with partners to verify details.”
“Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account,” she said.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said of the reports that, if confirmed, such actions would be “a further wholesale breach of international law.”
The reports are “a further indication of President Putin and Russia’s absolute violation of every single value and every single rules-based aspect of the rules-based global order,” Payne said, adding that Australis is working to determine the veracity of the claims.
The reports follow weeks of heavy shelling by Russian forces in the strategic city. Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, warned late last month of an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe” if more citizens weren’t allowed to evacuate.
Experts have anticipated the fall of Mariupol to Russian forces since late March. The city of 430,000 residents has seen some of the worst fighting in the war. Zelenskyy estimated on April 11 that tens of thousands are dead in the destroyed city of Mariupol, while pro-Russian forces have said that 5,000 have been killed by Ukrainian forces.
In a Telegram post on April 6, a spokesperson for the Azov Regiment said that occupying forces were “using phosphorus bombs and dropping them on the city.”
He said of the Russian forces, “I want to say the words that were written by the great Ukrainian prophet, almost 2 centuries ago: ‘O lovely maidens, fall in love. But not with the Muscovites, for Muscovites are foreign folk. They do not treat you right.’ It is difficult to describe the disaster that they do in Mariupol. Behind all the bombs that were dropped on the city, and all the rockets, they even use phosphorous bombs. I can’t even imagine [what] these freaks will come up with to destroy what’s left.”
Zelenskyy in his nightly address called on Ukraine’s allies to help supply “necessary weapons.”
“Unfortunately, we are not getting as much as we need to end this war sooner,” Zelenskyy said. “I am sure that we will get almost everything we need, but not only time is being lost. The lives of Ukrainians are being lost—lives that can no longer be returned.”