The Russian military had no immediate comment after Ukraine’s president said attacking the city of 1 million would constitute a “war crime”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russian troops are preparing to bomb the main port city of Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

“They are preparing to bomb Odessa,” Zelensky said in a televised address on Sunday.

“The Russians always come to Odessa. In Odessa, they have always felt only warmth. Only sincerity. Now? Bombing Odessa? Bombing Odessa? Missiles against Odessa?” he continued. , without details. “It would be a war crime. It would be a historic crime.”

There was no immediate comment from Russia, which launched its invasion of Ukraine by air, land and sea on February 24.

Russian troops have since made progress, capturing the city of Kherson and besieging the port of Mariupol, but Odessa has so far been largely spared.

(Al Jazeera)

About a million people live in Odessa, a cosmopolitan port on Ukraine’s southern coast, with Ukrainian and Russian speakers as well as Bulgarian and Jewish minorities.

Parts of Russia’s advance from occupied Crimea have turned east to link up with Russian-backed separatists and seize the port of Mariupol in the Sea of ​​Azov.

But part of the troops also headed west to Kherson, on the way to Odessa. The city is also close to the Moldovan border and the disputed Transnistria region.

“This is the largest seaport; 70% of our exports go through the ocean,” Hannah Shellest, director of the security program at Ukraine’s Prism think tank, told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera’s Jonahel, reporting from Lviv in western Ukraine, said the possible capture of Odessa and other southern port cities would “effectively turn Ukraine into a landlocked country”.

“The possibility that has been hanging in the air for days is there – Russian troops have been north of Crimea, through Kherson and then through the town of Mykolaiv, and will likely try to double back in Odessa and join him,” he added. Said that some members of the Black Sea Fleet have been hovering over the horizon there for several days, making a sea landing.”

“It’s been discussed – it’s unclear whether Zelensky was referring to specific intelligence.”

In the first 11 days of the conflict, Russian troops also advanced towards the capital Kyiv from the northwest and northeast, while another force bombed the northern city of Kharkiv.

Several cities were bombed and shelled, and the United Nations said more than 1.5 million civilians were driven from their homes by the fighting.