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Mariupol in final siege; Ukrainian forces ‘will fight till the end’

A man walks near a residential building destroyed in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)
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Ukrainian forces defied Russian demands to surrender in the key port city of Mariupol by a Sunday deadline, though the situation appeared bleak as forces remained holed up in the bombed-out city where tens of thousands of stranded civilians struggle to access basic necessities.

Analysts expect Russia to capture the devastated city soon while it refocuses its military might on Ukraine’s eastern region after failing to seize the capital, Kyiv.

The battle for control over eastern and southern cities is the latest stage in a war now in its eighth week, as Russia attempts to solidify its grip on an area that provides strategically important access points to the Black Sea and beyond. Ukrainian leaders, meanwhile, made pleas on Sunday news programs for additional U.S. support.

The officials said besieged cities including Mariupol remain under their control but described conditions as increasingly dire.

The last Ukrainian fighters holding out in the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol rejected Russian demands to surrender on April 17. (Video: Reuters)

Why Russia gave up on urban war in Kyiv and turned to big battles in the east

The “city still has not fallen,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “There is still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight till the end.

Russia had given Ukrainian forces in Mariupol a deadline of 6 a.m. local time Sunday (11 p.m. Eastern time Saturday) to surrender. Russia said it broadcast its orders every 30 minutes throughout the night and vowed to guarantee the lives of those who laid down their arms in a five-hour period immediately after the deadline, according to state media.

Troops have laid siege to the port city for more than a month in a Russian attempt to take control of all along the coast of the Sea of Azov. Doing so would give Russia control of the land and sea between territories it holds in Ukraine’s east and the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

An estimated 100,000 civilians, less than a quarter of the prewar population, remain in Mariupol cut off from food, water, heat and humanitarian aid, with some exceptions. Mariupol emerged as an early flash point in the war with horrifying scenes captivating the world’s attention, including the bombings of a maternity ward and a theater where hundreds sought refuge.

Ukrainian governor says Mariupol ‘has been wiped off the face of the earth’

Moscow contends that remaining pro-Ukrainian forces in Mariupol have lost control of all but the Azovstal steel plant, one of the largest metallurgical factories in Europe. The Washington Post cannot verify that claim, and Ukrainian authorities say they still have troops elsewhere in the city.

Russian forces “likely captured” the port area of Mariupol on Saturday, further reducing Ukrainian defenses outside of the factory, according to an assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank. The report refers to footage of Russian forces in numerous “key locations,” including the port itself.

“Isolated groups of Ukrainian troops may remain active in Mariupol outside the Azovstal factory, but they will likely be cleared out by Russian forces in the coming days,” the institute’s latest assessment says.

The evaluation adds that Russian forces could try to force the remaining defenders in the factory to “capitulate through overwhelming firepower.” Ukrainian forces, it says, “appear intent on staging a final stand.”

Moscow claims the Ukrainian government forbade negotiations to surrender at the plant, citing intercepted radio communications. Russian officials threatened those who remain.

“In the case of further resistance, they will all be eliminated,” the Russian Defense Ministry posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainian media outlets that negotiations between the two sides could end if Russian forces killed all of the Ukrainians defending the city.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials on April 17 called for additional aid and suggested that President Biden would visit Ukraine. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Analysts predict Mariupol will become the first major Ukrainian city to fall under Russian control, and Ukrainian officials have described the city as all but lost.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Mariupol “doesn’t exist anymore” and faces a situation that is “dire militarily and heartbreaking.”

Russian forces are issuing passes for movement around the areas they control in Mariupol. Starting in the coming days, they will be required by anyone leaving their homes, said Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor.

Russia had not agreed on cease-fires to allow the evacuation of civilians, including in Mariupol, on Sunday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

“We are working hard to get the humanitarian corridors back on track as soon as possible,” she added.

Control over all of Mariupol would mark a significant turning point for Russia, which has struggled to capture major cities after its early occupation of Kherson in the south. Russian President Vladimir Putin faces pressure at home to show successes for a war that has killed thousands of Russian troops, with the precise toll unclear, and has resulted in widespread economic hardship from sanctions.

Russia’s eastern pivot encroaches on friendlier territory where pro-Moscow separatists have fought for years. Analysts say the open terrain in the energy-rich industrial Donbas region is better for Russian troops who struggled in urban battles, where Ukrainian forces had the edge.

“They want to literally finish off and destroy Donbas. Destroy everything that once gave glory to this industrial region,” Zelensky said in a televised address Sunday. “Just as the Russian troops are destroying Mariupol, they want to wipe out other cities and communities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

Ukrainian officials confirmed that the country’s financial team will meet with representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. Treasury in Washington this week. World Bank officials are planning a $3 billion package to support Ukraine.

The prime minister said financial assistance is essential as the country runs a $5 billion-a-month deficit.

“We need more finances to support our people, our refugees, our internally displaced persons — to save our economy for future recovery,” Shmyhal said on “This Week.”

World Bank economists recently estimated that Ukraine’s economy could shrink 45 percent this year, depending on the length and severity of the conflict. An economic collapse of that magnitude would dwarf the 11.2 percent the Russian economy is expected to shrink over the same time because of unprecedented sanctions, and would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the region.

The European Union is allocating another 50 million euros ($54 million) in humanitarian aid as part of its 1 billion euro pledge, officials announced Sunday.

The money is aimed at helping people in “hard-to-reach areas who are cut off from access to healthcare, water and electricity, and those who have been forced to flee and leave everything behind,” Janez Lenarcic, commissioner for crisis management, said in the statement, adding that the European Union must prepare for an escalation in Russia’s attacks, principally in eastern Ukraine.

Reports of casualties from other eastern Ukrainian regions continued. In Kharkiv, five died and 13 were wounded in strikes Sunday, local officials said. They are among 18 killed and 106 wounded during Russian shelling of Kharkiv in the past four days, Zelensky said Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, Oleh Synyehubov, head of Kharkiv’s regional administration, said three people were killed and 31 injured in Russian shelling over the previous 24 hours. He appealed to those still in the Kharkiv region to avoid being out on the streets.

A World Central Kitchen restaurant partner in Kharkiv is relocating after a missile struck the building where a team of volunteers had been cooking free meals for residents, injuring four staff members, CEO Nate Mook said Sunday.

“This is the reality here — cooking is a heroic act of bravery,” he said on Twitter.

Another humanitarian organization’s leader described the challenges of getting food in various areas.

“I’ve seen places where there’s nothing in these warehouses but food, and that’s not even in Mariupol,” David Beasley, head of the U.N. World Food Program, said on “Face the Nation.” “There is no question food is being used as a weapon of war in many different ways here.”

The eastern Luhansk region’s governor said Sunday that Russian shelling hit a residential part of Zolote, killing two people and wounding four. Local Ukrainian officials also accused Russia of shelling a church in the city of Severodonetsk on Sunday.

Russian missile strikes continued over the weekend in the Kyiv area even as forces turned toward the east. An attack Saturday on the capital killed at least one person and injured several, the mayor said. Another strike hit the Kyiv suburb of Brovary.

Officials also said Sunday they pulled another body from the ruins of apartment buildings in the Kyiv suburb of Borodyanka shelled earlier in the month. The death toll from the attack that leveled much of the suburb is expected to rise as authorities search the rubble of two more destroyed buildings.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Sunday, Ukraine’s president said world leaders are failing to live up to the promise of “never again” after the Holocaust.

“We don’t believe the words,” Zelensky said. “After the escalation of Russia, we don’t believe our neighbors. We don’t believe all of this.”

Demonstrations against Russia’s war in Ukraine took place across Europe over the weekend, including in Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona and outside the British prime minister’s official residence in London.

Pope Francis, in his Easter address delivered to tens of thousands of worshipers in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, called for “peace for war-torn Ukraine.”

“We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence,” he said. “Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away to be safe from bombing.”

Calling Sunday’s holiday an “Easter of war,” Pope Francis on April 17 cautioned that the conflict in Ukraine could lead to nuclear war. (Video: Reuters)

Zelensky also invoked Easter in his Sunday address, describing the holiday as a celebration of the victory of life over death.

“I wish you to keep the light of soul even in this dark time of war against our state,” he said. “To keep it to see how good will soon surely defeat evil for the sake of our country, and how the truth will overcome any lies of the occupiers.”

Andrew Van Dam, Hannah Knowles and Paulina Villegas in Washington; Julian Duplain in London; Bryan Pietsch in Seoul; and David L. Stern in Mukachevo, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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