Ukraine conflict: Russian demands to give up the city of Mariupol rejected
Russia has been barraging the encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov, hitting an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.
Fighting for Mariupol has continued to be intense, even as the Russian offensive in other areas has floundered to the point where Western governments and analysts see the broader conflict grinding into a war of attrition.
Ukrainian officials rejected the Russian proposal for safe passage out of Mariupol even before Moscow's 5am deadline for a response came and went.
"There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. "We have already informed the Russian side about this."
Mariupol Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko also rejected the offer shortly after it was made, saying in a Facebook post he did not need to wait until the morning deadline to respond and cursing at the Russians, according to the news agency Interfax Ukraine.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two corridors - one heading east toward Russia and the other west to other parts of Ukraine. He did not say what action Russia planned to take if the offer was rejected.
The Russian Ministry of Defence said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it described as "bandits", the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Previous bids to allow residents to evacuate Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities have failed or have been only partially successful, with bombardments continuing as civilians sought to flee.
Tearful evacuees from the devastated city have described how "battles took place over every street".
Ahead of the latest offer, a Russian air strike hit the school where some 400 civilians had been taking shelter and it was not clear how many casualties there were, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address early on Monday.
"They are under the rubble, and we don't know how many of them have survived," he said.
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to link up.
A former commander of UK Joint Forces Command said if Russia takes control of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol it will be seen as a “major strategic success”
Sir Richard Barrons told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “When the Russians feel they’ve successfully concluded that battle, they will have completed the landbridge from Russia to Crimea, and they will see this as a major strategic success”, he said.
He added that Russia has shown that it will pound strategic areas to “rubble” to take them.
“If you look at the method they have adopted, where this really matters to them, and they couldn’t walk in, they couldn’t drive in with a tank – they’ve pounded it to rubble.
“And that’s what we should expect to see anywhere else that really matters to them.”
He added that the Ukrainian port city of Odesa is Russia’s next “logical” target.