Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol defy demand to surrender or die
Ukrainian fighters who were holed up in a massive steelworks in the last known pocket of resistance inside the shattered city of Mariupol on Sunday ignored a surrender or death ultimatum from Russia and resisted capturing the port strategically vital.
The fall of Mariupol, the site of a ruthless 7-week siege that reduced much of the city to a smoking ruin, would be Moscow’s greatest victory of the war and free up troops to take part in a potentially decisive for the control of the industrial east of Ukraine.
Capturing the southern city would also allow Russia to fully secure a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of a major port and its valuable industrial assets.
As its missiles and rockets struck other parts of the country, Russia estimated that 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers and around 400 foreign mercenaries had been buried in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks, which covers more than 11 square kilometers (4 miles squares) and is laced with tunnels.
Many Mariupol civilians, including children, also took refuge at the Azovstal plant, Mikhail Vershinin, head of the city’s police patrol, told Mariupol television on Sunday. He said they are hiding from Russian bombing and all occupying Russian soldiers.
Moscow had given the defenders a noon deadline to surrender and “keep their lives”, but the Ukrainians rejected it, as they have with previous ultimatums.
“We will fight absolutely to the end, to victory, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal promised on ABC’s “This Week” program. He said Ukraine was ready to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we have no intention of surrendering.”
As for beleaguered Mariupol, there appeared to be little hope on Sunday of a military rescue by Ukrainian forces anytime soon. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Ukrainian troops and remaining civilians in Mariupol are basically surrounded. He said they were “continuing their struggle”, but the city effectively no longer existed because of the massive destruction.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent his Easter greetings via Twitter, saying, “The resurrection of the Lord is a testimony to the victory of life over death, of good over evil.
If Mariupol falls, Russian forces are expected to join an all-out offensive in the coming days for control of Donbass, the eastern industrial region the Kremlin is determined to capture after failing to take kyiv, the capital of Russia. Ukraine.
Relentless shelling and street fighting in Mariupol has killed at least 21,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates. A maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian airstrike in the first weeks of the war, and around 300 people were reportedly killed in the bombardment of a theater where civilians were taking refuge.
Around 100,000 remained in the city out of a pre-war population of 450,000, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity in a siege that made Mariupol the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering.
“Anyone who continues the resistance will be destroyed,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said in announcing the latest ultimatum.
Drone footage released by Russian news agency RIA-Novosti showed towering plumes of smoke over the steel complex, which sits on the outskirts of the bombed city on the Sea of Azov.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar has described Mariupol as a ‘shield defending Ukraine’ as Russian troops prepare for battle in the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists already control part of the territory.
Meanwhile, Russian forces carried out airstrikes near kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capability ahead of the planned assault.
After the humiliating sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last week in what Ukrainians claimed was a missile attack, the Kremlin pledged to step up strikes on the capital.
Russia said on Sunday it had attacked a munitions factory near kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days.
Explosions were also reported overnight in Kramatorsk, the eastern city where rockets earlier this month killed at least 57 people at a train station crowded with civilians trying to evacuate ahead of the Russian offensive.
At least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, on Sunday, regional officials said. The barrage rammed into apartment buildings and left the streets littered with broken glass and other debris, including part of at least one rocket.
Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov, in an impassioned speech marking Orthodox Palm Sunday, lambasted Russian forces for not halting the bombing campaign on such a holy day.
And Zelenskyy, in his nightly address to the nation, called the Kharkiv bombing “nothing but deliberate terror”.
A regional official in eastern Ukraine said at least two people were killed when Russian forces fired on residential buildings in the town of Zolote, near the front line in Donbass.
Zelenskyy said Russian troops in parts of southern Ukraine had committed torture and kidnappings, and he called on the world to respond with more weapons and tougher penalties.
“Torture chambers are built there,” he said in his remarks. “They are kidnapping local government officials and anyone considered visible to local communities.”
Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the Russians were continuing to hit Mariupol with airstrikes and could prepare for an amphibious landing to reinforce their ground troops.
The impending offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a vital part of the country and a much-needed victory that he could sell to the Russian people amid mounting war and military losses. economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met Putin in Moscow this week – the first European leader to do so since the February 24 invasion – said the Russian president was “in his own logic of war” against Ukraine.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nehammer said he thinks Putin believes he’s winning the war, and “we have to look him in the eye and we have to confront him with what we see in Ukraine”.
Chernov reported from Kharkiv. Yesica Fisch of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine