Ukraine Declines The Demand For City To Surrender

Russian demands that Ukrainian forces in Mariupol lay down arms and hoist white flags on Monday in exchange for safe passage out of the beleaguered key port city were vehemently rebuffed by Ukrainian officials. Even as Russia intensified its bombardment of Mariupol in an attempt to force it to capitulate, its offensive in other parts of Ukraine has failed. The broader fight, according to Western governments and observers, is deteriorating into a war of attrition, with Russia continuing to bombard cities. A commercial complex near the city center in Kyiv was destroyed by Russian artillery, killing at least eight people. Under Russian pounding for more than three weeks, the surrounded southern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the greatest tragedies of the war. According to Ukrainian sources, strikes targeted an art school that was sheltering 400 people just hours before Russia offered to open two routes out of the city in exchange for the surrender of its troops.

Even before Russia’s deadline of 5 a.m., Ukrainian officials rejected Russia’s offers for safe passage out of Mariupol. The deadline for a response in Moscow (0200GMT) came and passed. “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.” According to the news agency Interfax Ukraine, Mariupol Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko similarly spurned the offer quickly after it was made, claiming in a Facebook post that he didn’t need to wait until the morning deadline to answer and cursing the Russians.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev of Russia had proposed two routes, one leading east to Russia and the other west to other parts of Ukraine. He made no mention of what Russia would do if the offer was turned down. According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the Russian Ministry of Defense threatened authorities in Mariupol may face a military tribunal if they sided with “bandits.” Attempts to evacuate the people of Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities have failed or only partially succeeded, with shelling continuing as the population attempted to flee. At least 2,300 people have died in the siege, according to city officials, with some buried in mass graves. “Battles took place over every street,” tearful evacuees from damaged Mariupol described.

A Russian airstrike destroyed the school where some 400 civilians were taking cover ahead of the new offer, and it was unclear how many people were killed, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated in a televised speech early Monday. “They are under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them have survived,” he said. Russian soldiers in southern and eastern Ukraine would be able to combine if Mariupol fell. However, Western military analysts believe that even if the encircled city is seized, the forces struggling for control of the city one block at a time may be too weak to aid Russian advances on other fronts. “Russian forces have not been met with a bouquet of roses,” Zelenskyy told CNN, but rather with “guns in their hands.”

President Joe Biden of the United States was scheduled to meet with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom later Monday to discuss the conflict, before traveling to Brussels and then Poland later this week for in-person meetings. Zelenskyy has been asking the US for more aircraft and improved air-defense systems, while NATO nations on the alliance’s eastern border have also been seeking to the US and Britain for missile defense systems.

Experts say that more than three weeks into the invasion, the two sides appear to be trying to wear each other down, with bogged-down Russian forces launching long-range missiles at cities and military bases and Ukrainian forces launching hit-and-run attacks and attempting to cut off Russian supply lines. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “forces on the ground are effectively halted,” according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “It’s had the effect of him moving his forces into a woodchipper,” Austin told CBS on Sunday. The strike at the art school was the second attack on a public building where Mariupol people had sought refuge in less than a week, according to officials. On Wednesday, a bomb detonated in a theatre where over 1,000 people were thought to be hiding.

There was no immediate news on the number of people killed or injured in the school shooting, which The Associated Press could not independently confirm. Since Friday, when they reported at least 130 people had been rescued and another 1,300 were trapped by rubble, Ukrainian officials have not provided an update on the search for the theatre. Food, water, and power have all run out in Mariupol, according to city officials and aid organizations, and humanitarian convoys have been kept out by fighting. The lines of communication have been cut. Some of those who were able to evacuate Mariupol wept as they arrived by rail in Lviv, nearly 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the west, on Sunday.

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“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.” Hundreds of men, women, and children have been killed in Russian attacks in Ukraine’s largest cities. According to emergency services in Kyiv, eight people were killed by shelling in the densely populated Podil area, not far from the city center, on Sunday. It destroyed a commercial complex, leaving flattened rubble in the midst of high-rise towers that were still smoking Monday morning. The power of the explosion shattered every glass and twisted the metal frames of the high-rise next door.

The sound of artillery could be heard in the distance as firefighters worked their way through the wreckage. According to Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, Russian shelling hit many homes in Podil. For the fourth week in a row, Russian troops have been bombing Kyiv in an attempt to encircle the capital, which had a population of about 3 million people before the war. The majority of Russian forces have been maintained more than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the city center, according to the British defense ministry, although Kyiv “remains Russia’s primary military target.”

The United Nations has recorded 902 civilian deaths in the conflict but admits that the true toll is likely significantly higher. According to the report, approximately 3.4 million people have fled Ukraine. The number of Russians killed varies, but even conservative estimates are in the tens of thousands. At least 115 children have been killed and 148 have been injured, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office. In the midst of a massive crackdown on dissent, some Russians have also departed the country. Thousands of anti-war protestors have been detained in Russia, which has also censored independent media and restricted access to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

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