Ukraine rejects Russian demand to surrender Mariupol and lay down arms

Ukraine has defied a Russian ultimatum for its forces to lay down their weapons and surrender the besieged city of Mariupol.

Russia has been bombarding the southern port city since the start of the invasion, upping its assault in the past 48-hours by hitting an art school sheltering some 400 people.

Despite the near-constant barrage, Ukrainian officials flat out rejected Moscow’s demand for Mariupol’s defenders to ‘laydown arms’ even before Russia’s 5am deadline.

‘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.’

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

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev had offered the city two evacuation 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 only been partially successful, with shelling continuing as civilians tried to flee.

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

Russia’s offer came after an airstrike on an art school where some 400 people were taking shelter.

The number of casualties is not yet known, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address 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 Zelenskyy told CNN, but with ‘weapons in their hands’.

Almost four weeks into the invasion, the two sides now seem to be trying to wear down the other, experts say, with Russia turning to a war of attrition.

Russian forces have launched long-range missiles at cities and military bases as Ukrainian forces carry out hit-and-run attacks and seek to sever Russian supply lines.

‘The block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is costing the Russian military time, initiative, and combat power,’ the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a briefing.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukrainian resistance means Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘forces on the ground are essentially stalled’.

The strike on the art school was the second time in less than a week that officials reported an attack on a public building where Mariupol residents were sheltering.

On Wednesday, a bomb hit a theatre where more than 1,000 people, including children, were believed to be sheltering.

Ukrainian officials have not given an update on the search of the theatre since Friday when they said at least 130 people had been rescued and another 1,300 were trapped by rubble.

Mariupol has seen some of the worst of the war. City officials and aid groups say food, water and electricity have run low and fighting has kept out humanitarian convoys.

At least 2,300 people have died officials have said, with some buried in mass graves.

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