The battered port city of Mariupol seemed on the brink of falling to Russian forces on Sunday after a seven-week siege, a development that would give Moscow a crucial success in Ukraine after Russia failed to storm the capital and lost its Black Sea flagship .
The Russian military estimated that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters, based in a huge steel plant with a maze of underground passages, formed the last stronghold in Mariupol. Russia set a deadline for their surrender, saying those who laid down their arms were “guaranteed to keep their lives,” but the Ukrainians stood their ground.
“Anyone who continues to resist will be destroyed,” said Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry. He said intercepted communications indicated that about 400 foreign mercenaries were with Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal Steelworks, a claim that could not be independently verified.
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The capture of Mariupol would free Russian forces to weaken and encircle Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is concentrating its war aims for now, using personnel and equipment pulled from the north after a botched attempt to take Kyiv.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield in Ukraine’s defense” as Russian troops prepare for a full-scale offensive in Donbass, the country’s eastern industrial hub, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some areas.
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As a reminder that no part of Ukraine was immune until the end of the war, Russian forces carried out fresh rocket attacks near Kyiv and elsewhere on Sunday in a bid to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity ahead of the expected attack in the east.
After the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, Russia’s military command on Friday pledged to step up missile attacks on the capital. The Russian military said Sunday it had attacked a munitions factory near Kyiv with precision-guided missiles overnight, the third such attack in as many days.
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Russia repeated its attacks on Kyiv after accusing Ukrainian forces of airstrikes into Russian territory, injuring seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed hitting targets in Russia.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and several injured in a strike on Saturday at an armored vehicle factory identified by the Russian Defense Ministry. He advised residents who fled the city earlier in the war not to return.
The Russian military also claimed on Sunday to have destroyed Ukrainian air defense radars in the east, near Sievierodonetsk, as well as several ammunition depots elsewhere. Explosions were reported overnight in Kramatorsk, an eastern city where rockets killed at least 57 people at a train station crowded with civilians trying to evacuate ahead of the expected Russian offensive.
The ongoing siege and relentless bombing of Mariupol has come at a terrible cost, with officials estimating the Russians have killed at least 21,000 people. From a pre-war population of 450,000, only 120,000 people live in the city.
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Malyar, the deputy defense minister, said the Russians had continued to hit Mariupol with airstrikes and could prepare for an amphibious landing to bolster their ground forces.
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The capture of the city, which has a land area about half the size of Hong Kong, would mark Russia’s first tangible victory after two months of fighting and help reassure Russian public amid the deteriorating economic situation from Western sanctions.
It would allow Russia to secure a land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of a major port and valuable industrial assets.
The capture of Mariupol would also free up more troops for a new offensive in the east that, if successful, would put Russian President Vladimir Putin in a position of strength to press Ukraine for concessions.
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So far, the tunnels in the sprawling Azovstal Steelworks, which covers an area of more than 11 square kilometers (over 4.2 square miles), have allowed defenders to hide and resist until they run out of ammo.
With Russia appearing ready to declare victory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the city’s fall could derail any attempt at a negotiated peace.
“The destruction of all our people in Mariupol – what they are doing now – can put an end to any negotiation format,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with Ukrainian journalists.
In his late-night address to the nation, Zelenskyy called on the West to immediately send more heavy weapons if there was a chance to save the city, adding that Russia was “deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met with Putin in Moscow this week – the first European leader since the invasion began on February 24 – said the Russian president was “in his own war logic” towards Ukraine.
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In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Nehammer said he believed Putin believed he was winning the war and “we need to look him in the eye and confront him with what we’re seeing in Ukraine.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Ukraine’s continued resistance to the Russian invasion “heroic”, depriving Russia of the expected quick victory.
“What awaits us is a war of resistance, continued violence with destruction that will continue,” Draghi told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Sunday. “There are no signs that the Ukrainian people can accept a Russian occupation.”
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Like Mariupol, the northeastern city of Kharkiv has been a constant target of Russian aggression since the early days of the invasion and has seen worsening conditions in the run-up to the eastern offensive.
Several rockets hit the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday, according to Associated Press journalists who were there. At least two people were killed and four others injured, although the scale of the attack suggested the death toll could be rising.
The barrage battered apartment buildings, leaving broken glass, debris and the part of at least one missile strewn in the street. Firefighters and local residents tried to put out the flames in several apartments that caught fire.
On Saturday, three people were killed and 34 injured when an explosion believed to have been caused by a missile went off near an outdoor market, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. According to local officials, ten people died in rocket attacks on residential areas in Kharkiv on Friday.
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Nate Mook, a member of the NGO World Central Kitchen, which is run by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said in a tweet that four workers in Kharkiv were injured in a strike. Andres tweeted that staff were unnerved but safe.
Zelenskyy estimates that 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers died in the war and around 10,000 were injured. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said on Saturday that at least 200 children were killed and more than 360 injured.
Despite the war still raging, Zelenskyy spoke in his nightly address about Ukraine’s plans for a monument in honor of the dead and victims of the Ukrainian people.
One suggestion is to tell the story of the destroyed bridge near the capital that people used to flee from, “to remind all generations of our people of the brutal and senseless invasion that Ukraine was able to repel,” he said.
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis made a concerned plea for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it has been drawn,” Francis said, without mentioning Putin’s decision, on April 24 February to invade Ukraine.
“Please, please don’t we get used to war? Francis asked.
Chernov reported from Kharkiv. Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/8765617/russia-ukraine-deadline-to-surrender-mariupol/ Ukrainians defy Russian ultimatum to surrender in Mariupol – National