Russia continued flattening Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol on Tuesday amid escalating warnings from Washington that a cornered President Vladimir Putin, frustrated by his military’s slow progress 26 days into the invasion of Ukraine, could resort to unleashing chemical or biological weapons on his neighbors.
President Joe Biden said Monday that Putin’s “back is against the wall,” with his assault on Ukraine not going to plan. Mr. Biden called the Russian leader’s allegations that the U.S. has labs in Ukraine to develop chemical and biological weapons a “clear sign he’s considering using both” himself.
As U.S.-Russian relations plummet to new lows, the U.S. leader also warned businesses that a Russian cyberattack could soon target companies or infrastructure on American soil.
Moscow has shown no sign of backing down in the standoff. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov issued a demand on Russian television Monday evening for “an end to the demonization of Russia.”
“We insist that the responsibility for the possible consequences of what is happening lies entirely with Washington,” Ryabkov warned.
But while the Putin regime insists it’s only targeting “neo-Nazis” and criminals in Ukraine, and that it never takes aim at civilian infrastructure, those claims are belied by the utter devastation of entire cities like Mariupol, which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says is being methodically “reduced to ashes” for refusing to accept Russian rule.
Until just a month ago, it was a thriving port city home to about half a million people. It has been under constant Russian siege for weeks. Thousands of civilians are still trapped there, cowering in basements from the constant artillery barrage. Putin’s forces have cut off everything from food and medicine to heat and electricity to the city.
But some civilians have made it out. CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab met one family that escaped the devastation to reach the western city of Lviv. They told CBS News all that’s left of Mariupol is “hell on Earth.”
Video shows black smoke rising from the remains of apartment buildings across the city, revealing the hell-scape left behind by Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
The relentless shelling of Mariupol has triggered a mass exodus, and many, like the Vodizanska family, have escaped with little more than their lives.
Bloodied and bruised, the once typical middle-class family fled their home in Mariupol and made it to the safety of a church in Lviv. Svetlana and Roman spent five days on the road with their children to escape Russia’s relentless bombing of their city.
“Hell is when you don’t know if you will be able to take the next breath, if you will [find] anything to feed your children with, because they are hungry,” Svetlana told Tyab. “Hell is when you know that if your child gets sick, he will die.
“That is hell,” the mother told CBS News. “That is hell here in the 21st century.”
Nearly 90% of Mariupol’s buildings, including civilian homes, have been damaged or destroyed. Workday traffic has given way to tank battles in the streets and armed soldiers patrolling what’s left of neighborhoods.
Svetlana injured her head in a car accident as she and her family rushed to escape the Russian strikes that have completely destroyed their home.
Asked how she explains the war to her young children, Svetlana told CBS News that “they will know the truth. The truth the way it is… they will be told the Russians wanted to kill us, but we persevered because we are strong.”
“We are Ukrainians,” she said. “It’s in our blood.”
Svetlana and her family remain defiant. They told CBS News they would like to get to the U.S., to try to rebuild their lives, but that Mariupol will always be home, and they’ll return there one day to help rebuild their city, too.