CONCLUSION 4-No Word from Mariupol as Russian Offered Surrender Window Opens
(Adds Kyiv official who denies any explosion in the capital)
* Fighters who go to Mariupol will be spared-Moscow
* Two hours after handover window, no activity report
* Russia says urban area of Ukrainian port city cleared
* Explosion hits kyiv, according to local media
* Ukraine says situation in Mariupol ‘very difficult’
April 17 (Reuters) – Russia told Ukrainian forces fighting in Mariupol to lay down their arms on Sunday morning to save their lives, but there were no immediate reports of activity three hours after the ban went into effect. ultimatum at 03:00 GMT in the strategic southeast port.
Air raid sirens sounded across the country early in the day, a regular occurrence, and a morning report from the Ukrainian military said Russian airstrikes on Mariupol continued while there were “operations assault near the seaport”.
Local media reported an explosion in the capital kyiv, but Mykola Povoroznyk, the city’s deputy mayor, said there were no explosions and air defense systems prevented the attacks Russians.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops cleared the urban area of Mariupol and only a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters remained at a giant steelworks on Saturday.
Moscow’s claim to have virtually taken control of Mariupol, the scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe, could not be independently verified. It would be the first major city to fall to Russian forces since the February 24 invasion.
“In view of the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant, in addition to being guided by purely human principles, the Russian armed forces offer militants nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries from 06:00 a.m. (Moscow time) on April 17, 2022, to cease all hostilities and lay down arms,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“All those who lay down their arms are guaranteed that their lives will be spared,” he said, adding that the defenders could leave the factory at 10 a.m. without arms or ammunition.
There was no immediate response from Kyiv.
The Azovstal factory, described as a fortress within a city, sits in an industrial area that overlooks the Sea of Azov and covers more than 11 square km (4 square miles), containing a myriad of buildings, tall furnaces and railway tracks.
The city’s defenders include Ukrainian marines, motorized brigades, a National Guard brigade and the Azov Regiment, a militia created by far-right nationalists that was later integrated into the National Guard. It was not immediately clear how many were in the steel mills.
“The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the Ukrainska Pravda news portal. “Our soldiers are stranded, the wounded are stranded. There is a humanitarian crisis… Yet the guys are fighting back.”
The Ukrainian military said Russian warplanes that took off from Belarus fired missiles at the Lviv region near the Polish border and four cruise missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.
The western town, relatively unscathed so far, has served as a haven for refugees and international aid agencies.
TWISTED STEEL, SANDED CONCRETE
In Mariupol, Reuters journalists reached the giant Illich steelworks, one of two metallurgical plants where the defenders had held out in underground tunnels and bunkers. Moscow claimed to have captured him on Friday.
The factory was reduced to a ruin of twisted steel and blown concrete, with no sign of defenders present. Several bodies of civilians were scattered in the surrounding streets.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops had “completely emptied” the Mariupol urban area of Ukrainian forces and blocked the “remains” in the Azovstal steelworks, the RIA news agency reported. He said that on Saturday Ukrainian forces in the city had lost more than 4,000 men.
Zelenskiy accused Russia of “deliberately trying to destroy everyone” in Mariupol and said his government was in contact with the defenders. He did not respond to Moscow’s assertion that Ukrainian forces were no longer in urban districts.
He added that the “extermination” of the fighters in Mariupol would put an end to any form of negotiations with Russia.
Russia said on Friday it would step up long-range strikes in retaliation for unspecified acts of “sabotage” and “terrorism”, hours after confirming the sinking of its Black Sea flagship Moskva.
kyiv and Washington claim that the ship, whose sinking has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance, was hit by Ukrainian missiles. Moscow says she sank after a fire and her crew of around 500 were evacuated.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a video of Navy chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov meeting on a parade ground around 100 sailors he said were part of the crew.
THE BIGGEST PRIZE IN RUSSIA
If Mariupol falls, it would be the biggest prize of Russia’s war so far. It is the main port of Donbass, a region of two provinces to the south-east which Moscow is demanding that it be entirely ceded to the separatists.
Ukraine says it has so far held back Russian advances elsewhere in the Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where at least one person has been killed in overnight shelling.
Ukraine gained the upper hand at the start of a war, in part by successfully deploying mobile units armed with Western-supplied anti-tank missiles against Russian armored convoys confined to roads by muddy terrain.
But Putin appears determined to capture more Donbass territory to claim victory in a war that has left Russia under increasingly punitive Western sanctions and with few allies.
The next round of European Union sanctions against Russia will target banks, including Sberbank, as well as oil, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters in Kyiv, Lviv and Mariupol, and Reuters offices worldwide; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by William Mallard)