WASHINGTON: Ukraine’s prime minister said Sunday that the strategic port city of Mariupol “has not fallen” and that the encircled forces defending the city from Russian attack will “fight to the end.” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was speaking to ABC’s “This Week” hours after a Russian ultimatum for the surrender of those fighters, holed up in a fortress-like steelworks, had expired.
“The city still has not fallen,” he said. “There’s still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight to the end.” In a sign of the desperate situation facing the surrounded forces, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that if they were killed, peace talks with Moscow would be scrapped.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had already said the talks were at a “dead end.” Shmyhal said on Sunday that Ukraine wanted a diplomatic solution “if possible,” but added: “If the Russians wouldn’t like negotiations, we’ll fight to the end, absolutely. We will not surrender. “We won’t leave our country, our families, our land. We will fight to the end.”
Asked about reports that Putin believes Russia is winning the war, Shmyhal pushed back. While several cities are under siege, he said, not one-with the exception of Kherson in the south-had fallen. He said more than 900 towns and cities had been liberated. The capture of Mariupol, however, would represent a severe blow to Ukraine, both strategically and symbolically, as it would help Moscow open a land route to the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.
Shmyhal again implored Western countries to send more ammunition and weapons to bolster outmanned Ukrainian forces, while also pleading for more financial help. The country, he said, is seeing a “huge humanitarian catastrophe,” and needs further help “to save our economy for future recovery.” “Now, only half of our economy is working” and Ukraine faces a huge monthly budget deficit of $5 billion, Shmyhal said. He said Ukrainian officials would be in Washington in the coming week to press the country’s needs at the spring meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Meanwhile, a Russian ultimatum for the last remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to surrender expired on Sunday, with Moscow poised for a major strategic victory in the southeastern port city. In Kyiv, renewed Russian air strikes hit an armaments factory, despite Moscow shifting its military focus to gaining control of the eastern Donbas region and forging a land corridor to already-annexed Crimea.
“During the night, high-precision, air-launched missiles destroyed an ammunitions factory near the settlement of Brovary, Kyiv region,” Russia’s defence ministry said, the third such air strike near the capital in as many days. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged Russian forces to allow evacuations from Mariupol, which Moscow’s forces claim to have brought under their control, though Ukrainian fighters remain holed up in the city’s fortress-like steelworks.
Moscow on Saturday issued an ultimatum to the fighters, urging them to lay down their arms by 6:00 am Moscow time (0300 GMT) and to evacuate before 13:00 pm. “Once again, we demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians, especially women and children, from Mariupol,” Vereshchuk wrote.
Russia’s defense ministry said that there were up to 400 mercenaries inside the encircled Azovstal steel plant, calling on Ukrainian forces inside to “lay down their arms and surrender in order to save their lives.” Moscow claims Kyiv has ordered fighters of the nationalist Azov battalion to “shoot on the spot” anyone wanting to surrender. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said that if Russian forces kill Kyiv’s troops remaining to defend the city, then a fledgling negotiation process to end nearly two months of fighting would be ended.
Zelensky said the situation in Mariupol is “inhuman” and called on the West to immediately provide heavy weapons. Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet state on February 24. “The situation in Mariupol remains as severe as possible. Just inhuman,” Zelensky said in a video address.
“Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there.” The UN World Food Programme has said that over 100,000 civilians in Mariupol are on the verge of famine, and lacking water and heating. Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said the city was on “the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe” and warned the country was compiling evidence of alleged Russian atrocities there.
“We will hand everything over to The Hague. There will be no impunity,” he said. With fighting raging in the east, Deputy Prime Minister Vereshchuk said that humanitarian corridors allowing civilians to flee would not open on Sunday after failing to agree terms with Russian forces. Ukrainian authorities have urged people in the eastern Donbas area to move west to escape a large-scale Russian offensive to capture its composite regions, Donetsk and Lugansk.
Russia warned the United States this week of “unpredictable consequences” if it sends its “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine, as Zelensky has requested. Its defense ministry claimed Saturday to have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane in the Odessa region, carrying weapons supplied by Western nations. – AFP