Russia claims to have cleared the metropolitan area of Mariupol, with only a tiny detachment of Ukrainian fighters remaining inside a steel factory in the beleaguered southern port.
Russia’s claim that it had nearly gained control of Mariupol – the site of the war’s bloodiest fighting and biggest humanitarian disaster – could not be independently verified.
It would be the first major city to fall to Russian forces since the invasion on February 24.
“The entire Mariupol urban area has been entirely cleaned… “Remains of the Ukrainian group are today entirely blockaded on the site of the Azovstal metallurgical facility,” said Igor Konashenkov, senior spokesperson for Russia’s defence ministry.
“Their only hope to preserve their lives is to lay down their arms and surrender peacefully.”
According to Konashenkov, 1,464 Ukrainian forces have already surrendered “during the liberation of Mariupol.”
The surviving fighters in Mariupol are being held hostage in the Azovstal steelworks factory.
According to Russia’s defence ministry, if Ukrainian forces still fighting in Mariupol lay down their arms at 6 a.m. Moscow time (03:00 GMT), their lives will be spared.
“Taking into account the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal metallurgical plant, as well as being guided by purely humane principles, the Russian Armed Forces offer militants of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries to cease all hostilities and lay down their arms at 06:00 (Moscow time) on April 17, 2022,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
“All who lay down their arms are assured of their lives being saved.”
According to the terms of the agreement proposed by Russia on Saturday, the remaining defenders at the Azovstal plant would leave without weapons or ammunition between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. Moscow time.
According to the ministry, the start of the surrender would be signalled by hoisting flags: “from the Russian side – red; from the Ukrainian side – white, across the entire perimeter of Azovstal.”
“The situation in Mariupol is quite terrible,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda. “Our soldiers are obstructed, and the injured are obstructed.” There is a humanitarian emergency… However, the guys are protecting themselves.”
In an online speech, he accused Russia of attempting to exterminate the city’s population but did not address Moscow’s claim of taking Mariupol.
If Ukrainian fighters stranded in the port city are killed, Zelenskyy has warned to withdraw from ongoing peace talks with Russia.
“What they are doing right now… could put an end to any type of dialogue,” Zelenskyy told a Ukrainian news website.
“There are forces there who completely despise them, and I don’t think they’ll let them survive,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated, referring to the fact that many of the fighters in Mariupol are members of the far-right Azov Batallion.