Ukrainian forces in the beseiged southern port of Mariupol continue to fight and will defy a Russian demand to surrender, the country’s prime minister has said.
“We will absolutely fight to the end, to the win, in this war,” Ukraine’s prime minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC Newson Sunday. I added: “The city still has not fallen.”
The shattered city, the main port of the Donbas region, is on the brink of falling to the Russians after seven weeks under seige.
Its capture would give the Russian army a crucial swathe of territory connecting eastern separatist regions with Crimea and boost Vladimir Putin’s invading forces after the sinking of his navy’s Black Sea fleet flagship.
After failing to overcome Ukrainian resistance in the north, the Russian military has refocused its ground offensive on Donbas while aiming long-distance strikes elsewhere including the capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia on Saturday of “deliberately trying to destroy everyone” in Mariupol and said his government was in touch with the defenders, whose deaths he warned would put an end to any peace talks.
The Azovstal steelworks, one of Europe’s biggest metallurgical plants with a maze of rail tracks and blast furnaces, has become a last stand for the outnumbered defenders.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that a “remnant” of Ukrainian forces “are currenly entirely blocked on the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plan”.
“Their only chance to save their lives is to voluntarily lay down their arms and surrender,” the ministry said.
They issued an ultimatum for the Ukrainian soliders to surrender by 1pm local time on Sunday or face being “eliminated”.
But with a deadline now passed, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andriushchenko, said that “as of today, our defenders continue to hold the defence”.
Ukraine’s prime minister Mr Shmyhal said that “not one big city in Ukraine has fallen”, adding: “Only Kherson is under control of Russian military forces, but all of the rest of the cities are under Ukrainian control.”
“We are still fighting, and we have battle in Donbas region right now, but we do not have intention to surrender,” he added.
Predicting what will happen in the next few weeks of the war, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned that Russia will try to “finish with Mariupol”.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a CBS News interview on Sunday there had not been any recent communications between Russia and Ukraine at a foreign ministry level, and the situation in Mariupol, which he described as “dire”, could be a “red line “in the path of negotiations.
He added he expected fighting will intensify in eastern Ukraine in the coming weeks.
Mr Kuleba said Ukraine was braced for the “intensification of heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, in Donbas, large-scale offensive of Russia in that part”.
He added that he also predicted “desperate attempts of the Russian forces… to finish with Mariupol at any cost.”
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