Ukraine refuses to give up Mariupol as Russia warns of humanitarian ‘disaster’

Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues
Police officers walk at the scene of a shopping mall bombing as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues March 21, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

March 21, 2022

By Pavel Polityuk

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine on Monday rejected Russian calls to hand over the port city of Mariupol, where residents are besieged amid a humanitarian crisis with little food, water and electricity increasing pressure on European leaders to lift sanctions to intensify against Moscow.

The Ukrainian government defiantly rejected Russian demands for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to lay down their arms in exchange for safe passage out of the city and the opening of humanitarian corridors from 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (07:00 GMT) on Monday.

“There can be no question of capitulation, laying down of arms,” ​​the news portal Ukrainska Pravda quoted Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk as saying.

“We have already informed the Russian side about this.”

Mariupol has suffered some of the heaviest bombing since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Many of the 400,000 residents remain trapped while fighting rages on the streets around them.

Vereshchuk said over 7,000 people were evacuated through humanitarian corridors from Ukrainian cities on Sunday, more than half from Mariupol. She said the government plans to send nearly 50 buses there on Monday for more evacuations.

Russia and Ukraine have maintained agreements on humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians throughout the war, but accuse each other of frequent violations of them.

The crisis in Mariupol and other devastated Ukrainian cities is likely to be a big topic in discussions between European Union leaders this week as they consider imposing tougher sanctions on Russia, including an oil embargo.

EU governments will begin discussion among foreign ministers on Monday, before US President Joe Biden arrives in Brussels on Thursday for summits with the 30 NATO allies plus the EU and in a Group of Seven (G7) format, including Japan .

Diplomats told Reuters that the Baltic countries, including Lithuania, are pushing for an embargo as the next logical step, while Germany warns against acting too quickly because of Europe’s already high energy prices.

In his latest call for help from abroad, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Israeli parliament via video link on Sunday, questioning Israel’s reluctance to sell its Iron Dome missile defense system to Ukraine.

“Everyone knows that your missile defense systems are the best… and that you can definitely help our people save the lives of Ukrainians, Ukrainian Jews,” said Zelenskyy, who is of Jewish descent.

Zelenskyi also welcomed mediation efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has held numerous talks with him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said in his daily video address to Ukrainians that “sooner or later talks will start with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem.”

The Mariupol Council informed by telegram that several thousand residents had been “deported” to Russia in the past week. Russian news agencies said buses had brought hundreds of refugees from Mariupol to Russia in recent days.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CNN the deportation reports were “disturbing” and “unscrupulous” if true, but said Washington has not yet confirmed them.

Reuters could not independently verify the claims. Russia denies attacks on civilians.

Greece’s consul-general in Mariupol, the last EU diplomat to evacuate the city, said it was one of the places known to have been destroyed in wars.

“Hopefully no one will ever see what I saw,” he said.

Kyiv and Moscow last week reported some progress towards a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security while keeping it outside NATO – a key Russian demand – although each side accused the other of dragging things out.


The capture of Mariupol would help Russian forces secure a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Putin says Russia’s “special operation” aims to disarm Ukraine and root out dangerous nationalists. Western nations are calling it an aggressive war of choice and have imposed punitive sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy.

Ukraine and its Western backers say Russian ground forces have made little progress over the past week, instead focusing on artillery and missile strikes.

Zelenskyi’s adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Sunday there had been a relative lull in the past 24 hours, “virtually no rocket attacks on cities”. He said the front lines were “virtually frozen”.

The Russian shelling in the east of the country killed three civilians and wounded five on Sunday, said Pavel Kirilenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration. One person was killed and one injured in the Kharkiv region, and two people were killed and one injured in the Luhansk region.

In the capital Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported multiple explosions in the Podil district and said rescue teams were putting out a large fire at the mall. He said at least one person was killed.

Reuters could not verify the reports.

The UN human rights office said at least 902 civilians had been killed as of Saturday, although the real number is likely much higher.

A five-kilometer area around a chemical plant in the besieged northeastern city of Sumy was dangerous due to an ammonia leak, Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said. What caused the leak was not known.

About 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced, including about 3.4 million who have fled to neighboring countries such as Poland, the UN refugee agency said.

In the southern city of Kherson, video seen by Reuters showed dozens of protesters, some draped in Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag, and two military vehicles with Russian markings chanting “go home” in Russian. The vehicles turned and drove off.

“I want the war to be over, I want them (Russian forces) to leave Ukraine alone,” said Margarita Morozova, 87, who survived Nazi Germany’s siege of Leningrad in World War II and lived in Kharkiv in the Eastern Ukraine lived the last 60 years.

(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Michael Perry) Ukraine refuses to give up Mariupol as Russia warns of humanitarian ‘disaster’

Bobby Allyn

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