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Mariupol falters as Ukrainians defy demand to surrender or die

“We will fight absolutely to the end, to victory, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal promised on ABC’s “This Week” program. He said Ukraine was ready to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we have no intention of surrendering.”

Capturing Mariupol would free Russian forces to join an expected all-out offensive for control of Donbass, the industrial region in the east of the country where the Kremlin has focused its war aims after giving up, for now at least. , any attempt to take kyiv, the capital.

Relentless shelling and street fighting in Mariupol pulverized much of the city and killed at least 21,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates. A maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian airstrike in the first weeks of the war, and around 300 people were reportedly killed in the bombardment of a theater where civilians were taking refuge.

An estimated 100,000 remained in the city out of a pre-war population of 450,000, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity in a siege that made Mariupol the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering.

“Anyone who continues the resistance will be destroyed,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said in announcing the latest ultimatum.

He said intercepted communications indicated there were around 400 foreign mercenaries with Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steelworks, a claim that could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a ‘shield defending Ukraine’ as Russian troops prepare for battle in Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists already control part of the territory .

In a reminder that no part of Ukraine is safe, Russian forces carried out missile strikes Sunday near kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capability ahead of the planned assault.

After the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet in what the Ukrainians called a missile attack, the Russian military pledged on Friday to step up its strikes on the capital. The Kremlin said on Sunday it had attacked a munitions factory near kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days.

Russia also claimed to have destroyed Ukrainian air defense radar equipment in the east, near Sievierodonetsk, as well as several ammunition dumps elsewhere.

Explosions were 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 the Russian offensive.

A regional official in eastern Ukraine said at least two people were killed when Russian forces fired on residential buildings in the town of Zolote, near the frontline in Donbass.

Malyar, the deputy defense minister, said the Russians were continuing to hit Mariupol with airstrikes and could prepare for an amphibious landing to bolster their ground forces.

Capturing the city would be Russia’s biggest victory after two months of costly fighting and could help reassure the Russian public in the face of deteriorating economic conditions due to Western sanctions.

This would allow Russia to secure a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of a major port and its valuable industrial assets.

Taking Mariupol would also make more troops available for the eastern offensive, which, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a vital part of the country and a much-needed victory he could sell to the Russian people.

The tunnels of the sprawling Azovstal Steelworks, which covers an area of ​​more than 11 square kilometers (over 4.2 square miles), provided the defenders with hiding and resistance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the fall of Mariupol could derail any attempt at a negotiated peace.

“The destruction of all our guys in Mariupol – what they are doing now – can end any format of negotiations,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with Ukrainian journalists.

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy called on the West to send in more heavy weapons immediately if there is a chance to save the city, adding that Russia is “deliberately trying to destroy everyone in it. “.

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 was “in his own logic of war” against Ukraine.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nehammer said he thinks Putin believes he’s winning the war, and “we have to look him in the eye and we have to confront him with what we see in Ukraine”.

Like Mariupol, the northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the early days of the invasion and saw conditions deteriorate ahead of the eastern offensive.

At least five people were killed and 13 injured on Sunday in the Russian bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, regional officials said.

The barrage rammed into apartment buildings and left the streets littered with broken glass and other debris, including part of at least one rocket. Firefighters and residents rushed to put out the flames in several apartments.

Zelenskyy estimated that 2,500–3,000 Ukrainian soldiers died during the war.

Amid the fighting, Zelenskyy spoke in his evening speech of Ukraine’s plans for a memorial “to remind all generations of our people of the brutal and senseless invasion that Ukraine was able to repel.”

Pope Francis made an anguished plea on Easter Sunday for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine.

“May peace reign for war-torn Ukraine, so hard-hit by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war in which it has been drawn,” Francis said, without mentioning Putin’s decision to invade. .

“Please, please don’t get used to war,” pleaded Francis.

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