Russia closes in on Mariupol; we’ll fight till the end: Ukraine - GulfToday

Russia closes in on Mariupol; we’ll fight till the end: Ukraine


People take belongings out of a residential building, which was destroyed during conflict in Mariupol on Sunday. Reuters

The shattered port city of Mariupol appeared on the brink of falling to the Russians on Sunday in what would give Moscow its biggest victory of the war yet and free up troops to take part in a potentially climactic battle for control of Ukraine’s industrial east.

Russia estimated 2,500 Ukrainian fighters were holding out at a hulking steel plant in the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, much of which has been reduced to a smoking ruin during a merciless seven-week siege.

Moscow gave the city’s defenders a surrender-or-die ultimatum with a midday deadline, saying those who laid down their arms were “guaranteed to keep their lives.” But the fighters ignored it, just as they rejected previous ultimatums.

Mariupolbuildingfire Firefighters work to extinguish fire at an apartments building after a Russian attack in Kharkiv. AP

“We will fight absolutely to the end, to the win, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal vowed on ABC’s “This Week.” He said Ukraine is prepared to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we do not have intention to surrender.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent Easter greetings via Twitter, saying: “The Lord’s Resurrection is a testimony to the victory of life over death, good over evil.”

If Mariupol is captured, Russian forces there are expected to join an all-out offensive in the coming days for control of the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin is bent on taking after failing in its bid to seize Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

The relentless bombardment and street fighting in Mariupol have killed at least 21,000 people, by the Ukrainians’ estimate. A maternity hospital was hit by a lethal Russian airstrike in the opening weeks of the war, and about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater where civilians were taking shelter.

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

“All those who will continue resistance will be destroyed,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said in announcing the latest ultimatum.

Tanks-Russia Service members of pro-Russian troops drive tanks during conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol. Reuters

He said intercepted communications indicated about 400 foreign mercenaries were holed up along with the Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel mill, which covers more than 11 square kilometers (4 square miles) and is laced with tunnels.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine” as Russian troops prepare for the battle in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory.

In a reminder that no part of the country is safe, Russian forces carried out missile strikes Sunday near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity before the anticipated assault.

Ukraine-Russia-war-April17-main2-750 Local residents walk past a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant. AP

After the humiliating sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last week in what the Ukrainians boasted was a missile attack, the Kremlin had vowed to step up strikes on the capital.

Russia said Sunday that it had attacked an ammunition plant near Kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days.

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 at residential buildings in the town of Zolote, near the front line in the Donbas.

At least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday, regional officials said. The barrage slammed into apartment buildings and left the streets scattered with broken glass and other debris, including part of at least one rocket.

Associated Press

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