Ukrainian forces and officials have accused Russia of dropping chemical weapons on the port city of Mariupol, causing troops and civilians alike to develop respiratory illnesses.
“Russian occupation forces used a poisonous substance of unknown origin against Ukrainian military and civilians in the city of Mariupol, which was dropped from an enemy [unmanned aerial vehicle],” the Azoz Regiment, a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, posted to Telegram on Monday. “The victims have respiratory failure, vestibulo-atactic syndrome.”
The Pentagon could not confirm the social media reports that Russian forces had deployed a potential chemical weapon, but said it is aware of the claims.
“These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” press secretary John Kirby said in a statement, adding that the Defense Department will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Ukrainian officials also reported the attack over social media.
“ATTENTION! Chemical weapons are used against Ukrainian defenders in #Mariupol! Russia openly crosses all boundaries of humanity and openly declares it,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, wrote on Twitter.
The reports, if accurate, would mark an escalation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since it began on Feb. 24.
Top U.S. and Ukrainian officials last month said they were bracing for such a scenario, which could open the door to a wider conflict.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in March said the use of chemical weapons is a “blatant violation of international law with far-reaching consequences.”