(LVIV, Ukraine) — Ukrainian officials defiantly rejected a Russian demand that their forces in Mariupol lay down arms and raise white flags Monday in exchange for safe passage out of the besieged strategic port.
Russia is waging war on the Sea of Azov’s southern city, bombarding it with threats, striking an art school housing around 400 people just hours before offering two corridors for escape in exchange for capitulating to its defenders.
The fighting for Mariupol continues, even though the Russian offensive has failed in other parts of the country to the point that analysts and Western governments see the wider conflict as a war to attrition.
Ukrainian officials rejected the Russian proposal for safe passage out of Mariupol even before Moscow’s 5 a.m. deadline for a response came and went.
“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”
Mariupol Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko also rejected the offer shortly after it was made, saying in a Facebook post he didn’t need to wait until the morning deadline to respond and cursing at the Russians, according to the news agency Interfax Ukraine.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows multiple buildings that were damaged by Russian strikes in the Livoberezhnyi District, Mariupol (Ukraine), Sunday, March 20, 2022. Ukrainian officials claimed Sunday that Russia bombed an art school housing around 400 people in Mariupol’s port city. This was weeks after a Russian siege.
Planet Labs PBC/AP
Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two corridors — one heading east toward Russia and the other west to other parts of Ukraine. He didn’t say anything about Russia’s plans if the offer wasn’t accepted.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it described as “bandits,” the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Previous attempts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol or other Ukrainian cities failed, or were only partially successful. Bombardments continued as civilians fled.
Tearful evacuees from devastated Mariupol have described how “battles took place over every street.”
Ahead of the latest offer, a Russian airstrike hit the school where some 400 civilians had been taking shelter and it was not clear how many casualties there were, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address early Monday.
“They are under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them have survived,” he said.
Russian forces could unify their eastern and southern Ukraine after the fall of Mariupol. However, Western military experts warn that the soldiers fighting one block at a while for control in Mariupol may not be able to secure Russian advances on other fronts.
Ukrainians “have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers,” Zelenskyy told CNN, but with “weapons in their hands.”
Joe Biden, the U.S. president, was scheduled to speak with France’s, Germany’s, Italy, and Britain leaders Monday night to discuss war. Later in the week, he will travel to Brussels to hold in-person talks and later to Poland.
Zelenskyy has been pleading with the U.S. for more aircraft and advanced air-defense systems, while NATO members on the alliance’s eastern flank have also been looking for missile defense systems from the U.S. and Britain.
A damaged kitchen in an apartment building that was hit by shelling in Kharkiv (Ukraine), Sunday March 20, 2022, shows utensils.
The two countries appear to now be trying to bring down each other three weeks after the invasion began, according to experts. Russian troops are currently launching long-range rockets at military bases and cities, and Ukrainian forces launch hit-and-run operations to try to end Russian supply lines.
“The block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is costing the Russian military time, initiative, and combat power,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a briefing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukrainian resistance means Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “forces on the ground are essentially stalled.”
“It’s had the effect of him moving his forces into a woodchipper,” Austin told CBS on Sunday.
Officials had reported a second strike against the school of art in less that a week. It was an attack on a building where Mariupol residents were sheltering. More than 1,000 were sheltering in the theater when a bomb was detonated Wednesday.
The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm the number of casualties from the attack on schools. Since Friday’s announcement that 130 had been saved and 1,300 more were trapped under rubble, Ukrainian officials haven’t provided any updates on the situation.
Aid groups and city officials claim food, water and power have been cut in Mariupol due to fighting. The communications are cut off.
For more than three weeks the city has been bombarded and has experienced some of most terrible horrors during the conflict. According to officials, at most 2,300 civilians have been killed and many more are buried in mass graves.
Some of those who managed to escape Mariupol wept as they arrived in Lviv by train on Sunday, approximately 1,100 km (680 miles) west.
“Battles took place over every street. Every house became a target,” said Olga Nikitina, who was embraced by her brother as she got off the train. “Gunfire blew out the windows. The apartment was below freezing.”
In Ukraine’s major cities, hundreds of men, women and children have been killed in Russian attacks.
According to AP journalists on the spot, six people were injured in a shelling incident that occurred in Kyiv’s densely populated Podil area, not far from central Kyiv. A shopping mall was destroyed by the blast, which left a devastated ruin that lingered Monday morning amid high-rise towers. Each window broke in the nearby high-rise and their metal frames were bent by the force of the explosion.
Firefighters fought their way through the wreckage, despite the distant sound of artillery. Vitali Klitschko from Kyiv said Russian bombings had damaged several houses in Podil.
For the fourth week, Russian troops are shelling Kyiv and trying to surround its capital. The city had almost 3 million inhabitants before the war.
Although the U.N. confirms 902 deaths among civilians during the conflict, they admit that it is more likely. Nearly 3.4 million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine, according to the U.N. Although estimates of Russian deaths are not consistent, even the most conservative numbers tend to be in the thousands.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office says at least 115 children have been killed and 148 injured so far.
Many Russians have also fled the country due to a crackdown on political dissent. Russia detained thousands of protesters against war, clamped down on independent media outlets and blocked access to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
This report was contributed by Yuras Karmanau, an Associated Press journalist based in Lviv (Ukraine), and other AP journalists from around the globe.
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