A Russian ultimatum for the last remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to surrender has expired, as Moscow seems poised for a major strategic victory in the southeastern port city.
The Russian Armed Forces issued an ultimatum on Saturday, urging their opponents to lay down their arms by 6am Moscow time (03:00 GMT) on Sunday and to evacuate before 1pm.
Several hours after the deadline passed on Sunday, there was no sign of compliance by Ukrainian fighters holed up in the smouldering Azovstal steelworks, one of Europe’s biggest metallurgical plants.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday that the remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol are still fighting and continue to defy the Russian demand that they surrender.
“The city still has not fallen,” Shmyhal told ABC’s This Week programme.
It is not known how many soldiers are in the steelworks. Satellite images have shown smoke and fire coming from the area, which is riddled with tunnels underneath.
Russia claims to have brought Mariupol, Ukraine’s main Sea of Azov port, under its control.
Petro Andryushchenko, an assistant to the city’s mayor, said Russians were giving passes to hundreds of civilians for permission to move around central parts of the city.
If confirmed, Mariupol would be Russia’s biggest capture since it launched its invasion nearly two months ago, enabling Moscow to connect territory it holds in Donbas with the Crimea region it annexed in 2014.
No humanitarian corridors
The urban area of Mariupol has seen some of the fiercest fighting and worst civilian suffering, with bodies littering destroyed streets and thousands hunkered down in atrocious conditions underground.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said humanitarian corridors allowing civilians to flee would not open on Sunday after failing to agree terms with Russian forces.
“As of this morning, April 17, we have not been able to agree with the occupiers on a ceasefire on the evacuation routes. That is why, unfortunately, we are not opening humanitarian corridors today,” she wrote in a statement on social media.
“Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there,” he added.
Speaking to the Ukrayinska Pravda news portal on Saturday, Zelenskyy said “our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis… Nevertheless, the guys are defending themselves.”
Russia said Ukraine had lost more than 4,000 soldiers in Mariupol as of Saturday. But Kyiv says its total troop losses nationwide so far in the war are less than that, between 2,500 and 3,000. Neither side’s figures could be verified.
Russia’s refocusing on eastern provinces
The Russian military has refocused its ground offensive on the eastern Donbas region after failing to overcome Ukrainian resistance in the north. It maintained long-distance strikes elsewhere, including the capital Kyiv.