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Ukraine refuses Russia's offer of safe passage out of Mariupol

Two women escaping from the besieged city of Mariupol arrive at Lviv, western Ukraine, on Sunday, March 20, 2022 (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) 
Cara Anna, Associated Press

Ukrainian officials have rejected a Russian demand that their forces in the besieged strategic port city of Mariupol lay down arms and raise white flags in exchange for safe passage out.

Russia has been barraging the encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov, hitting an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.

Fighting for Mariupol has continued to be intense, even as the Russian offensive in other areas has floundered to the point where Western governments and analysts see the broader conflict grinding into a war of attrition.

Ukrainian officials rejected the Russian proposal for safe passage out of Mariupol even before Moscow’s 5am (3am London) deadline for a response came and went.

“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”

Mariupol Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko also rejected the offer shortly after it was made, saying in a Facebook post he did not need to wait until the morning deadline to respond and cursing at the Russians, according to the news agency Interfax Ukraine.

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two corridors — one heading east toward Russia and the other west to other parts of Ukraine. He did not say what action Russia planned to take if the offer was rejected.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it described as “bandits”, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Previous bids to allow residents to evacuate Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities have failed or have been only partially successful, with bombardments continuing as civilians sought to flee.

Tearful evacuees from the devastated city have described how “battles took place over every street”.

Ahead of the latest offer, a Russian air strike hit the school where some 400 civilians had been taking shelter and it was not clear how many casualties there were, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address early on Monday.

“They are under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them have survived,” he said.

The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to link up.

But Western military analysts say that even if the surrounded city is taken, the troops battling a block at a time for control there may be too depleted to help secure Russian breakthroughs on other fronts.

Ukrainians “have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers”, Mr Zelensky told CNN, but with “weapons in their hands”.

Three weeks into the invasion, the two sides now seem to be trying to wear the other down, experts say, with bogged down Russian forces launching long-range missiles at cities and military bases as Ukrainian forces carry out hit-and-run attacks and seek to sever their supply lines.

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