Ukraine’s defenders in Mariupol defy Russia’s demand to surrender or die
The fall of Mariupol, where a devastating seven-week-old siege has left much of the city in smoldering ruins, will be Moscow’s greatest victory of the war and the liberation of its armies. to engage in a climactic battle for control of industrial eastern Ukraine.
Capturing the southern city would also allow Russia to secure a complete land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, while depriving Russia of a major port and valuable industrial assets. prices of Ukraine.
As their rockets and missiles hit other parts of the country, Russia estimates that 2,500 Ukrainian troops and around 400 foreign mercenaries have been dug at the vast Azovstal steel plant, which covers more than 11 acres. square kilometers (4 square miles) and equipped with tunnels.
Many Mariupol civilians, including children, are also sheltering at the Azovstal factory, Mikhail Vershinin, head of the city’s police patrol, told Mariupol TV channel on Sunday. He said they were hiding from Russian shelling, and from any occupying Russian troops.
Moscow has set a deadline for defenders to surrender and “keep their lives,” but the Ukrainians have rejected that, as they have with previous ultimatums.
“We will fight absolutely to the end, to win, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC’s “This Week” channel. He said Ukraine is ready to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we have no intention of surrendering.”
As for the besieged Mariupol, there seemed little hope on Sunday of a Ukrainian military rescue any time soon. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS “Face the Nation” that the remaining Ukrainian troops and civilians in Mariupol were essentially surrounded. They “continued their struggle,” he said, but the city actually ceased to exist because of great devastation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent Easter greetings via Twitter, saying: “The resurrection of the Lord is a testimony to the victory of life over death, good over evil.”
Should Mariupol fall, Russian forces there are expected to join an all-out offensive in the coming days to take control of the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin is trying to capture after its defeat. failed in their attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian estimates, the relentless shelling and street fighting in Mariupol has left at least 21,000 dead. A maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian air strike in the early weeks of the war, and about 300 people were killed in the bombing of a theater where civilians were sheltering.
An estimated 100,000 people remained in the city out of a total of 450,000 before the war, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity during a siege that has made Mariupol one of the hardest hit. most painful of the war.
“All those who continue to resist will be destroyed,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said in announcing the latest ultimatum.
Drone footage taken by Russian news agency RIA-Novosti shows plumes of smoke towering over the steel complex, located on the outskirts of the bombed city, over the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “protective shield for Ukraine” as Russian troops prepare for battle in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have taken control of some territory.
Meanwhile, Russian forces have carried out aerial attacks near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent attempt to weaken Ukraine’s military capabilities in the face of the anticipated attack.
After the sinking of a Russian Black Sea Fleet warship last week in what Ukrainians boast was a missile attack, the Kremlin has vowed to step up air strikes on the capital.
On Sunday, Russia said it attacked an ammunition factory near Kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third attack 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 a Russian attack. .
Regional officials said at least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday. Smashed apartment buildings and left streets strewn with broken glass and other debris, including part of at least one rocket.
The mayor of Kharkiv, Igor Terekhov, in a fiery speech marking Orthodox Palm Sunday, lashed out at Russian forces for not allowing a bombing campaign on such a holy day.
And Zelenskyy, in his nightly address to the nation, called the bombing in Kharkiv “nothing but a deliberate act of terror.”
At least two people were killed when Russian forces opened fire on residential buildings in the town of Zolote, near the front line in Donbas, a regional official in eastern Ukraine said.
Zelenskyy said Russian troops in the southern regions of Ukraine had carried out torture and kidnapping, and he called on the world to respond with more weapons and tougher sanctions.
“Torture chambers were built there,” he said in his speech. “They kidnap representatives of the local government and anyone who is believed to be visible to the local community.”
Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said Russia continues its air strikes on Mariupol and may be ready for an amphibious assault to bolster its ground troops.
The looming offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a vital piece of the country and a much-needed victory he can sell to the Russian people amid trade and commerce. increasing deaths and 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 “follows his own logic of war” for Ukraine.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nehammer said that he thinks Putin believes he is winning the war, and “we have to look him in the eye and we have to confront him.” That’s what we saw in Ukraine.”
Chernov reports from Kharkiv. Yesica Fisch of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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