The UK has warned that Vladimir Putin’s forces could use white phosphorus (WP) munitions as part of the bombardment of the Ukrainian port Mariupol.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) published its intelligence assessment today, which said WP had already been used by Russian forces in Ukraine.
White phosphorus is used for illumination at night or to create a smokescreen, but when it is deployed as a weapon it causes horrific burns.
The assessment said: “Russian forces’ prior use of phosphorus munitions in the Donetsk Oblast raises the possibility of their future employment in Mariupol as fighting for the city intensifies.”
The MoD added Russian forces had continued shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of eastern Ukraine, but Kyiv’s troops had repulsed “several assaults”.
“Russia’s continued reliance on unguided bombs decreases their ability to discriminate when targeting and conducting strikes while greatly increasing the risk of further civilian casualties,” the department warned.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko has also said 10,000 civilians have died in the Russian siege of his city, and that the death toll could surpass 20,000, with corpses that were “carpeted through the streets.”
He said: “Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned.”
Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said his meeting with Mr Putin in Moscow did not leave him optimistic.
He said: “The offensive is evidently being prepared on a massive scale.”
It comes as the UK is set to step up its military support for Ukraine following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unannounced visit to see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv over the weekend.
In the village of Buzova outside Kyiv, local officials said bodies showing “evidence of execution” had been discovered following the Russian withdrawal.
Buzova is near Bucha, another town where atrocities were discovered – although Russia has claimed the scenes from the aftermath of its occupation were staged.
Mr Zelensky used his nightly address to warn Ukrainians to brace for a Russian onslaught in the country’s east.
He said: “Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state.
“They can use even more missiles against us, even more air bombs. But we are preparing for their actions.
“We will respond. We will be even more active in providing Ukraine with weapons.”