LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian officials have defiantly rejected a Russian demand that its forces in Mariupol lay down their arms and raise white flags on Monday in exchange for safe passage out of the beleaguered port city.
As Russia intensified its efforts to subjugate Mariupol, its ground offensive in other parts of Ukraine stalled. Western officials and analysts say the conflict is turning into a bitter war of attrition, with Russia bombing cities.
In the capital, Kyiv, a shopping center in the densely populated Podil neighborhood near the city center lay in a smoking ruin after being hit by a shelling on Sunday night that killed eight people, emergency officials said. The attack shattered all the windows of a nearby skyscraper.
Ukrainian authorities also said Russia bombed a chemical plant in northeastern Ukraine, sending toxic ammonia escaping into the air, and hit a military training base in Ukraine. west with cruise missiles.
The beleaguered southern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has seen some of the war’s worst horrors, under Russian hammering for more than three weeks in what Ukrainian and Western officials have called a war crime.
Hours before Russia’s offer to open corridors out of the city in exchange for its defenders to surrender, an art school where some 400 people were sheltering was hit by an airstrike, officials say Ukrainians.
“They are under the rubble, and we don’t know how many of them survived,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. In a video address, he vowed that Ukraine “will shoot down the pilot who dropped this bomb”.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two corridors – one east to Russia, the other west to other parts of Ukraine – in exchange for the surrender of Mariupol. He did not say what Russia would do if the offer was rejected.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it called “bandits”, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Ukrainian officials rejected the proposal even before Russia’s deadline of 5 a.m. Moscow time for a back-and-forth response.
“There can be no talk of surrender, of laying down arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk told Ukrainian newspaper Pravda.
The strike against the art school was the second time in less than a week that officials reported an attack on a public building where residents of Mariupol had taken refuge. On Wednesday, an airstrike devastated a theater where more than 1,000 people are believed to have taken refuge. At least 130 people were reportedly rescued on Friday, but there has been no update since then.
Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people died during the siege, some of them buried in mass graves.
City officials and aid groups say the Russian bombardment cut Mariupol’s electricity, water and food supplies and cut off its communications with the outside world, plunging the remaining residents into a chaotic struggle for their survival.
“What is happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
Mariupol had a pre-war population of around 430,000. About a quarter are thought to have left in the early days of the war, and tens of thousands have left over the past week through a humanitarian corridor, although other attempts have been thwarted by bombing.
In the Black Sea port city of Odessa, authorities said Russian forces damaged civilian homes in a strike on Monday. The city council said no one was killed.
The Russian invasion drove nearly 3.4 million people from Ukraine, according to the United Nations. The UN confirmed the death of more than 900 civilians, but said the true toll was likely much higher. Estimates of Russian deaths vary, but even conservative figures are in the thousands.
Some who were able to escape from Mariupol hugged relatives in tears as they arrived by train in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Sunday.
“Battles took place in all the streets. Every house has become a target,” said Olga Nikitina, who was hugged by her brother as she got off the train. “Shots blew out the windows. The apartment was below zero.
Mariupol is a key Russian target because its fall would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to unite. Its capture would also help Russia establish a land bridge to Crimea, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014.
More than three weeks into the invasion, both sides appear to be trying to wear themselves out, experts say, with Russian forces launching long-range missiles at towns and military bases as Ukrainian forces carry out attacks flash.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces on the ground were “essentially at a standstill”.
Talks between Russia and Ukraine continued via video conference but failed to bridge the chasm between the two sides, with Russia demanding that Ukraine disarm and declare itself neutral and Ukraine saying that Russian forces must withdraw from the whole country.
Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, told Ukrainska Pravda that there was a 90-minute session between the main negotiators on Monday morning, followed by a full day of discussions in various working groups.
US President Joe Biden was due to hold talks with the war leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Britain on Monday.
In major cities across Ukraine, hundreds of men, women and children have been killed in Russian attacks.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said a Russian shell hit a chemical plant outside the eastern city of Sumy just after 3 a.m. on Monday, causing a leak in a 50-tonne ammonia tank that took hours to contain.
Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed the leak was a “planned provocation” by Ukrainian forces to falsely accuse Russia of a chemical attack.
Konashenkov also said a nighttime cruise missile strike hit a military training center in the Rivne region of western Ukraine. He said 80 foreign and Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, although the figure could not be independently confirmed.
The British Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian resistance had kept the bulk of Russian forces more than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the city center, but Kyiv “remains Russia’s main military objective”.
Russian troops have been bombarding kyiv for a fourth week now and are trying to encircle the capital, which had a population of nearly 3 million before the war. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced a curfew extending from Monday evening to Wednesday morning.
A cluster of villages on the northwest outskirts of Kyiv, including Irpin and Bucha, have been virtually isolated by Russian forces and are on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, regional officials said. Associated Press reporters who were in the area a week ago saw bodies in a park.
In another worrying development, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said radiation monitors around the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, have stopped working.
The agency said this problem, and the lack of firefighters to protect the region’s radiation-contaminated forests as the weather warms, could mean a “significant deterioration” in the ability to control the spread of radiation in Ukraine. and beyond.