Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday called the Russian siege of the port city of Mariupol a "humanitarian catastrophe," claiming that Russian forces had taken over 2,000 children out of the city as part of what Ukrainian officials have described as a wave of civilian deportations to Russia.
Asked in an interview with independent Russian journalists to describe the situation, Zelensky said, "The reality is this: The city is blocked by the Russian military. All entrances and exits from the city of Mariupol are blocked. The port is mined. A humanitarian catastrophe inside the city is unequivocal, because it is impossible to go there with food, medicine and water. The Russian military is shelling humanitarian convoys. Drivers are being killed."
Zelensky added that Russian forces have engaged in the "forcible removal of people" to Russia.
"According to our information, more than two thousand children were taken out, that means stolen," Zelensky said. "Their exact location is unknown. They can be there with or without parents. All in all, it's a disaster. I can't tell you what that looks like at all. It's scary. They hold them like souls for an exchange fund."
CNN cannot independently verify claims about the number of children taken out of Mariupol and other towns into Russia. A pro-Russian separatist on Sunday said around 1,700 people are being "evacuated" daily to Russia from Mariupol and other cities.
Zelensky painted a grim picture of the situation in the city, which has been shattered by weeks of fighting.
"To make you understand in the city there are corpses lying on the roads, on the sidewalks," he said. "Corpses are just lying around – no one cleans them – of Russian soldiers and citizens of Ukraine."