On Sunday morning, Russia warned Ukrainian forces battling in Mariupol to lay down their arms to spare their lives, but three hours after the ultimatum went into effect at 3 a.m. GMT in the strategic southeastern port, there were no immediate reports of activity.
Air raid sirens rang across the country early in the day, as they do on a regular basis, and a dawn dispatch from the Ukrainian military stated that Russian air raids on Mariupol continued while “assault operations near the seaport” were underway.
Local media claimed an explosion in Kyiv’s capital, but city deputy mayor Mykola Povoroznyk said there were no explosions and that air defense systems had thwarted Russian attacks.
On Saturday, Russia’s defense ministry said its soldiers had evacuated Mariupol’s metropolitan area, with only a tiny contingent of Ukrainian fighters remaining in a massive steelworks.
Moscow’s claim that it had almost completely gained control of Mariupol, the war’s bloodiest battleground and worst humanitarian disaster, could not be independently verified. It would be the first major city to fall to Russian forces since their invasion on February 24.
“Taking into account the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal metallurgical plant, as well as being guided by purely humane principles, the Russian Armed Forces offer the militants of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries from 06:00 (Moscow time) on April 17th, 2022, to stop any hostilities and lay down their arms,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
“All who lay down their arms are guaranteed that their lives will be spared,” it said, adding that the defenders could leave the plant by 10 am without arms or ammunition.
Kyiv did not respond right away.
The Azovstal complex, which has been described as a castle in a city, is located in an industrial area that stretches over 11 square kilometers and contains numerous buildings, blast furnaces, and rail tracks.
Ukrainian marines, motorized brigades, a National Guard brigade, and the Azov Regiment, a far-right militia that was later absorbed into the National Guard, are among the city’s defenders. It was unclear how many people were in the steelworks at the time.
“The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, president Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the Ukrainska Pravda news portal. “Our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis . . . Nevertheless, the guys are defending themselves.”
According to the Ukrainian military, Russian jets launched from Belarus fired missiles at the Lviv region near the Polish border, with four cruise missiles being shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.
So far, the western city has remained relatively unharmed, serving as a safe haven for refugees and international humanitarian groups.
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