Ukraine rejects Putin’s ultimatum to return Mariupol

Ukraine on Monday rejected an ultimatum to surrender the besieged city of Mariupol, its deputy prime minister told local media, demanding that Moscow instead allow hundreds of thousands of terrified residents to safely exit.

“We cannot talk about handing over weapons,” Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainska Pravda hours before a Russian deadline.

“We have already informed the Russian side about this,” she said, demanding that Moscow instead open humanitarian corridors to allow around 350,000 people still stuck in the city to leave.

Russia’s Defense Ministry previously said Ukraine had until 5 a.m. on March 21 to respond to Russian proposals, warning that more than a “court-martial” awaits those who do not surrender.

“We call on units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, territorial defense battalions, foreign mercenaries to cease hostilities, lay down their arms,” ​​said the head of the Russian National Defense Control Center Mikhail Mizintsev.

The southern port city of Mariupol is a key target in Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, providing a land bridge between Russian forces in Crimea to the southwest and Russian-held territory to the north and east. ‘East.

The city has been under heavy shelling from surrounding Russian forces since the start of the invasion on February 24.

A Greek diplomat who remained in Mariupol for part of the bombardment said the destruction there would rank among the most ruinous assaults of war in history.

“Mariupol will be included in a list of cities in the world that have been completely destroyed by war, such as Guernica, Stalingrad, Grozny, Aleppo,” Manolis Androulakis said after returning to Athens.

The UN described the humanitarian situation in the city as “extremely dire” with “residents facing critical and life-threatening shortages of food, water and medicine”.

“Act of Terror”

In his latest video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of bombing a school in Mariupol housing hundreds of people, calling the act a “terror that will be remembered even in the next century”.

“The Russian forces came to exterminate us, to kill us,” he said.

It was the latest potentially devastating strike on a civilian shelter. Last Wednesday, a theater where authorities said more than 1,000 people had taken refuge was hit, with hundreds still believed to be missing in the rubble.

Mariupol officials said occupation forces forcibly transported around 1,000 residents to Russia and stripped them of their Ukrainian passports – a possible war crime.

A group of children stranded in a clinic in Mariupol for weeks are among those taken to Russian-held territory, a caregiver and a relative of a clinic worker told AFP.

The 19 children, aged 4 to 17 and mostly orphans, lived in freezing cellars safe from bombardment in atrocious conditions.

As Russian shelling continued across the country, Zelensky again suggested that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have direct talks.

After addressing Israeli lawmakers, Zelensky — who is accused by Russia of being a Nazi, but who is Jewish — thanked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for his efforts to broker talks, which he said could have place in Jerusalem.

“Sooner or later we might start the conversation with Russia. Maybe in Jerusalem. This is the right place to find peace. If it’s possible,” Zelensky said.

Authorities in Turkey, where Russian and Ukrainian representatives negotiated, said the two sides were close to an agreement to end the fighting.

But the Ukrainian leader seemed to draw some red lines.

“You can’t just require Ukraine to recognize certain territories as independent republics,” he told CNN. “We must come up with a model where Ukraine will not lose its sovereignty.”

The conflict has sparked a refugee crisis of historic proportions, wreaked havoc on the global economy and sparked strong denunciations across much of the world.

China, Russia’s ally, has toed a cautious line, calling for peace talks but refraining from denouncing Moscow.

China’s ambassador to the United States denied on Sunday that his country was sending weapons to Russia for war, days after US President Joe Biden warned Beijing not to.

“What China is doing is sending food, medicine, sleeping bags and infant formula, not arms and ammunition,” Ambassador Qin Gang told CBS, without making any promises on the future.

hypersonic missiles

As the war continues, Russian forces – thwarted by surprisingly fierce Ukrainian resistance and reportedly facing shortages of weapons and supplies – have increasingly used long-range missiles.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that Moscow fired its new Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile again, destroying a fuel depot in the southern Mykolaiv region.

A day earlier, Russia said it used the sophisticated weapon to destroy an arms depot near the Ukraine-Romania border.

The Pentagon, however, played down the claim.

In kyiv, where Russian forces are trying to encircle the capital, a shell exploded in front of a 10-storey building, injuring five people.

At least one person was killed in the bomb attack on a shopping center in the northwestern district of Podilsky.

In Chernigiv, which is already surrounded, Mayor Vladislav Atroshenko said on Sunday that dozens of civilians had been killed after shelling hit a hospital.

Humanitarian conditions continued to deteriorate in the predominantly Russian-speaking south and east, where Russian forces pushed their advance, as well as in the north around Kyiv.

Aid agencies are struggling to reach people trapped in besieged cities.

Around 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, around a third of them abroad, the UN refugee agency said.

They are fleeing the fighting which, according to Zelensky, has left an estimated 14,000 Russian servicemen dead, a number that “will only increase”.

Russia has not provided a toll since early March, when it said nearly 500 servicemen had been killed. Ukrainian officials said on March 12 that some 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died.

Ukraine did not provide a civilian toll, except for children, saying at least 115 have now perished.

Lasting economic effects

Russia’s war has triggered an unprecedented wave of Western sanctions against Putin, his entourage and Russian businesses.

France said on Sunday it had seized 850 million euros ($920 million) in assets of Russian oligarchs on its soil.

The war has wreaked havoc on an already vulnerable global economy. Russia is a major exporter of oil, gas and raw materials, while Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat.

Commodity prices have soared, further fueling high inflation, the chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development told AFP.

“Even if the war stopped today, the consequences of this conflict would be felt for months,” said Beata Javorcik.