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Ukraine Demands Russia Allow Aid into Mariupol and Open a Corridor for Safe Civilian Passage

This Maxar satellite image taken and released on March 21, 2022 shows an overview of burning buildings and the Mariupol theater in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Ukraine demanded Tuesday that Russia allow humanitarian aid into Mariupol and let civilians leave the strategic city that has been heavily bombarded by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine started nearly a month ago.

"We demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Tuesday on Ukrainian television.

Ukraine's appeal came one day after it rejected an ultimatum to surrender the southeastern Ukrainian city by dawn Monday as a condition for civilians to leave safely.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in a video address Tuesday to the Italian parliament, "There is nothing left" in Mariupol.

In a statement Tuesday, a Mercy Corps official in Ukraine said the country's humanitarian aid system has collapsed.

"The reality is that right now the humanitarian system is entirely broken down," said Steve Gordon, the organization's humanitarian response adviser.

Gordon said most cities and towns that are experiencing the most intense fighting "don't have more than 3-4 days' worth of essentials, like food."

Vereshchuk said Russian forces were also preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching civilians in the occupied southern city of Kherson but did not offer details.

Russia denies involvement in repeated failed attempts to open a corridor for civilians to safely leave Mariupol and targeting civilians.

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen in a truck during Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road near the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 21, 2022.

Zelenskyy also said Tuesday he discussed the "difficult humanitarian situation" with Pope Francis and said the pope's role in mediating "ending human suffering would be appreciated."

On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned of the potential for Russia to carry out cyberattacks against U.S. interests or deploy biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine as Russia's Ukrainian invasion nears the one-month point.

Biden told a group of U.S. business leaders Russian President Vladimir Putin did not anticipate the extent of unity he would face in opposition to Russia's actions and that "his back is against the wall."

"Now he's talking about new false flags he's setting up, including he's asserting that, we, in America, have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe -- simply not true," Biden said. "They're also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That's a clear sign he is considering using both of those."

Biden also said Monday there was "evolving intelligence" that the Russian government was "exploring options for potential cyberattacks" against the U.S. in response to U.S. sanctions, and he urged the private sector to "immediately" harden "cyber defenses."

Russia rejected Biden's warning, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters Tuesday that Russia "does not engage in state-level banditry."

The leaders of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy and Britain held a call Monday in which they discussed concerns about Russia's brutal tactics in Ukraine, underscored their continued support to Ukraine by providing security and humanitarian assistance, and reviewed recent diplomatic efforts in support of Ukraine's effort to reach a cease-fire, according to the White House.

Later this week, Biden will attend a NATO summit, a G-7 meeting, and a European Council summit in Brussels, all focused on the situation in Ukraine, before traveling to Poland.