By CARA ANNA – Associated Press
LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia demanded that Ukrainians in the besieged city of Mariupol lay down their arms on Monday in exchange for safe passage out of the city, but Ukraine rejected the offer.
The Russian request came hours after the bombing of an art school that housed around 400 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev said he would allow two corridors out of the coastal city, heading either east to Russia or west to other parts of Ukraine.
Mariupol residents were given until 5 a.m. Monday to respond to the offer, which included raising white flags. Russia did not specify what action it would take if the offer was rejected.
But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said no.
“There can be no question of surrender, of laying down arms. We have already informed the Russian side about it,” she told Ukrainian media Pravda. “I wrote, ‘Instead of wasting time with eight pages of letters, just open the hallway.'”
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Mariupol Mayor Pyotr Andryushchenko also rejected the offer, saying in a Facebook post that he didn’t need to wait until morning to respond and cursing the Russians, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency.
Russia’s Defense Ministry also said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it called “bandits”, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Previous attempts to allow residents to evacuate Mariupol and other Ukrainian towns have failed or been only partially successful, with shelling continuing as civilians sought to flee.
Earlier on Sunday, Ukrainian authorities said the Russian military bombed an art school in Mariupol, and tearful evacuees from the devastated port city described how “battles took place in all the streets”, weeks after the siege.
Speaking in a video address early Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said around 400 civilians were taking refuge at the art school in the besieged port city of Azov Sea when it was hit by a Russian bomb. .
“They’re under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them survived,” he said. “But we know we will definitely shoot down the pilot who dropped that bomb, like about 100 other mass murderers we’ve already shot down.”
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to unite. But Western military analysts say that even if the encircled city is taken, troops fighting one block at a time for control may be too exhausted to help secure Russian breakthroughs on other fronts.
Three weeks after the invasionWestern governments and analysts see the conflict turning into a war of attrition, with bogged down Russian forces launching long-range missiles at cities and military bases as Ukrainian forces carry out lightning strikes and seek to cut their lines supply.
The Ukrainians “welcomed the Russian soldiers not with a bouquet of flowers,” Zelenskyy told CNN, but with “weapons in their hands.”
Moscow cannot hope to govern the country, he added, given Ukrainian enmity towards Russian forces.
The strike against the art school was the second time in less than a week that officials reported an attack on a public building where residents of Mariupol had taken refuge. On Wednesday, a bomb hit a theater where more than 1,000 people are believed to have taken refuge.
There was no immediate word on the victims of the school attack, which The Associated Press could not independently verify. Ukrainian authorities have not given an update on the search for the theater since Friday, when they said at least 130 people had been rescued and another 1,300 trapped by rubble.
City officials and aid groups say food, water and electricity have run out in Mariupol and fighting has prevented aid convoys from entering. Communications are cut off.
The strategic port has been bombarded for more than three weeks and has seen some of the worst horror of the war. City officials said at least 2,300 people had died, some of them buried in mass graves.
Some who were able flee Mariupol Tearful relatives hugged relatives as they arrived by train in Lviv on Sunday, some 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the west.
“Battles took place in all the streets. Every house has become a target,” said Olga Nikitina, who was hugged by her brother as she got off the train. “Shots blasted through the windows. The apartment was below zero.
Maryna Galla narrowly escaped with her 13-year-old son. She said she huddled in the basement of a cultural center with around 250 people for three weeks without water, electricity or gas.
“We left (the house) because shells hit the houses on the other side of the road. There was no roof. There were injuries,” Galla said, adding that her mother, father and grandparents stayed and “don’t even know we left.”
Surprisingly strong Ukrainian resistance dashed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes of a quick victory after he ordered an invasion of his neighbor on February 24. In recent days, Russian forces have entered Mariupol. But taking the city could prove costly.
“Block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is costing the Russian military time, initiative and combat power,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said in a briefing. .
In a direct assessment, the think tank concluded that Russia had failed in its initial campaign to quickly take the capital of kyiv and other major cities, and its invasion stalled.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Ukrainian resistance means “Putin’s forces on the ground are essentially at a standstill.”
“It had the effect that he moved his forces into a chipper,” Austin told CBS on Sunday.
In major cities across Ukraine, hundreds of men, women and children have been killed in Russian attacks.
Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said there were several explosions in a fairly central part of the city on Sunday evening, sparking a fire. He said Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian missile in the northwestern Podolskyi district.
In one video address to israeli parliament on sunday, Zelenskyy urged lawmakers to take stronger action against Russia. accusing Putin of trying to implement a “final solution” against Ukraine. The term was used by Nazi Germany for its genocide of some 6 million Jews during World War II.
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, also noted that a Russian missile hit Babi Yar – the spot in kyiv where more than 30,000 Jews were massacred in 1941 by the Nazis – and is now the main Holocaust memorial in Ukraine.
The UN has confirmed the death of 902 civilians during the war, but admits the true toll is likely much higher. It says nearly 3.4 million people fled Ukraine.
Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative numbers are in the low thousands.
Some Russians have also fled their country amid a widespread repression of dissent. Russia has arrested thousands of anti-war protesters, muzzled independent media and cut off access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP reporters from around the world contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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