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People in Mariupol are putting their lives in danger every time they leave their shelter, according to the commander of the Ukrainian army.

People in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol risk their lives each time they emerge from underground bunkers, a local military official said, claiming the strategic port is facing the most intense fighting anywhere in the country.

With Russia's assault in its fourth week, Major Denis Prokopenko, from the National Guard Azov Regiment, told that air and land attacks on the city were now almost relentless.

"Usually, Mariupol is under fire during the whole day and night. Sometimes there is 30 minutes of silence, but then the city is again under attack [from] tanks, artillery, multiple rockets, and [aircraft] like bombers and helicopters," he said. 

Mariupol has been under siege for several weeks and has seen some of the worst attacks in the war since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February. These have included deadly strikes on a maternity ward and the bombing of a theater, the losses from which are still unknown as the rescue operation continues.

The city lies on a stretch of coast connecting the eastern region of Donbas with the Crimea peninsula, both of which have been under Russian control since 2014. Russian forces appear to be trying to take full control of the area to create a land corridor between the two regions, squeezing Mariupol with brutal military force.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in Mariupol, blaming casualties on Ukrainian forces.

Prokopenko said people in the city were now reluctant to leave their underground shelters even to get hold of essentials, meaning they were trying to drink less water and eat less food, only emerging to prepare hot meals.

"People are cooking food in the streets, risking their lives under the continuous shelling and bombing," the military commander said. "The temperature is minus 5 degree Celsius in the street."

Basic services like gas, electricity and water, are all out in the city. Bodies are being left in the street because there is either no one left to collect them, or it is simply too dangerous to try.

Prokopenko said no one knew the exact number of people killed. "Some people are buried under ruined buildings, buried alive," he said.

Information about a huge attack three days ago on a theater in Mariupol being used as a shelter has been slow to emerge.

Prokopenko said he believed the building, which also acted as the city's main humanitarian assembly station, was providing a temporary home to about 800 people when it was hit.

He confirmed earlier reports that sustained Russian artillery fire made attempts to get survivors out of the building very difficult.

Figures released by several Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, say 130 people have been rescued, among them one person with serious injuries.

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