Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova on Tuesday said evidence shows Russia is committing “genocide” through its siege on the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Around 200,000 people are currently trapped in Mariupol, encircled and under fire from relentless shelling since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“What now I see in Mariupol it's not about war, it's about genocide,” Venediktova told AFP.
“Theatres of war have some rules, some principles. What we see in Mariupol, [are] no rules at all,” she added.
Ukraine will work to officially “qualify” the siege as genocide on the international stage, she pledged.
Mariupol -- home to 450,00 before the war began -- has witnessed some of the most vicious violence nationwide.
Artillery has hammered a maternity hospital, flattened residential areas, and struck a theatre despite signs declaring children were sheltering inside.
Incoming humanitarian aid and outgoing evacuation convoys have struggled to penetrate the boundaries of the brutal siege.
“Mariupol residents have described a freezing hellscape riddled with dead bodies and destroyed buildings,” a Human Rights Watch official said Monday.
Venediktova said Mariupol is now “a city hostage”.
“It's impossible to give them food, water, electricity and [the] Russian Federation exactly knows what they are doing here,” she added.
Mariupol is a key asset for Russia which would complete a “land bridge” between the Crimean peninsula annexed in 2014 and the Donbas region occupied by pro-Russia forces.
Seizing the port would also deprive Ukraine of a resupply route with the outside world on its southern Black Sea coast.