RUSSIAN forces have allegedly been indiscriminately shelling the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, home to almost 450,000 people, for the past day, with unconfirmed reports claiming hundreds have been killed.
Mariupol's mayor accused the Russians of carrying out "genocide" on his city, while his deputy claimed an entire neighbourhood home to 130,000 people has been flattened.
Footage reportedly filmed in the city appears to show gun battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces on Wednesday.
The city lies in a key location, between the annexed Crimean Peninsula where a number of Russian forces are based, and the pro-Russia breakaway provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Mariupol has reportedly been under continuous fire for the past 14 hours, according to the city government.
A maternity hospital and dozens of residential buildings have been severely damaged, while a school and a migrant shelter were destroyed.
Three boys playing football were hit in a Russian shelling attack in the city.
One lost his leg and died soon after arrival, an AP reporter said.
The other two were rushed to hospital and remain in intensive care.
All three boys were around 15 to 16 years old.
Unconfirmed reports claim hundreds have been killed in uninterrupted hours of shelling.
The basement of the maternity hospital in Mariupol has been transformed into a bomb shelter and nursery as Russian forces stepped up their attacks.
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Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, told Ukraine's 1+1 TV Channel that Russian troops have also stopped civilians from escaping the port city.
He said: "There's been colossal destruction of residential infrastructure, there are many wounded and unfortunately many civilian dead, women, children, old people."
"A full-scale genocide of the Ukrainian people is underway."
He went on: "You have to understand that the occupation forces of the Russian Federation have done everything to stop the exit of civilians from our city of half a million people.
"Our railway link has been cut – they even went to the railway station and fired on our diesel locomotives so that people can't be evacuated.
"So their mission is to destroy us, they have no intention of helping civilians."
Earlier on Wednesday, Boychenko said the number of wounded civilians "is growing every day".
He said: "Today there are 128 people in our hospitals. Our doctors don't even go home anymore. They are fighting for the lives of Mariupol residents."
Water supplies are also reportedly under threat in the city following more than half a day of Russian bombardment.
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The city's deputy mayor Sergiy Orlov said a riverside district home to some 130,000 people – including his own father – has been obliterated.
He said Russian forces are surrounding the city on all sides and are several kilometres away.
"The situation is dire, we are on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe," he said.
"We have been bombed nonstop for more than 15 hours. One-quarter of the city is almost completely destroyed. We can't go inside to pick up the bodies, so we can't count them."
He told the BBC: "The Ukrainian army is very brave and they will continue to defend the city but the style of the Russian army is like pirates.
"They do not fight with their army, they just destroy entire districts."
A full-scale genocide of the Ukrainian people is underway
A message from a Ukrainian soldier pinned down in the city reads: "If anything happens don't let us be forgotten. We are surrounded in Mariupol, no way out."
One British soldier now fighting in the Ukrainian Marines said he and his comrades were "encircled in Mariupol" as he urged people to "continue the support" for Ukraine.
It comes days after a six-year-old girl was killed in a Russian airstrike in Mariupol.
Horror images showed the poor child in unicorn pyjamas lying fatally wounded in a hospital in the city.
An angry doctor told reporters: "Show this to Putin," after the girl died despite the medical team's heroic efforts.
The child's terrified mum, covered in blood and holding a pink scarf, was pictured weeping as she waited outside the ambulance as the medical team tried desperately to revive her.
Another child, 10-year-old Polina, was shot dead by Russian troops after they opened fire on her family's car in Kyiv.
As Vladimir Putin's hopes of a quick takeover of Ukraine have been dashed, fears are growing Russia is using more and more indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets in a bid to end the war.
On Tuesday, Russia issued a chilling warning for Ukrainians to flee parts of Kyiv ahead of another massive bombardment.
So far, more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the war, and around 6,000 Russian troops.
Russia claims it has taken control of the port city of Kherson in southwestern Ukraine, although the city's mayor denies this and says Ukrainian forces are holding on.
Further rocket attacks have struck Ukraine's second city of Kharkiv, hitting the regional police department and part of a university.
More than 800,000 people have fled Ukraine so far, according to the United Nations, amid fears of the largest movement of people since World War Two.
On Wednesday, Russian paratroopers landed in the city and began fighting for control, according to the Ukrainian military.
A second round of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are due to take place tonight, according to Russian state news.
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