Ukrainian forces besieged in Mariupol have rejected Russia’s demands to surrender and are still resisting an unrelenting assault on the southeastern port city, top Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the city, which has been surrounded by Russian troops since March 1, has not fallen. Ukrainian troops trapped in the city are holding out against the Russian onslaught despite overwhelming odds. But they are confined to pockets of resistance, and their numbers are unclear.
“There are still our military forces, our soldiers, so they will fight until the end and as for now they are still in Mariupol,” Shmyhal said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol also rejected the Russian ultimatum earlier on Sunday. Petro Andriushchenko said on Telegram “as of today, our defenders continue to hold the defense.”
The comments come after Russia’s Ministry of Defense called on the Ukrainian soldiers still in Mariupol to surrender by 1 p.m. local time Sunday, warning anyone still resisting after the deadline “will be eliminated.” The ministry later confirmed the ultimatum had been ignored.
In a statement, the Russian ministry said the surrounded Ukrainian soldiers “were offered to voluntarily lay down arms and surrender in order to save their lives.”
“However, the Kiev nationalist regime, according to the radio intercept, forbade negotiations about surrendering,” the Ministry claimed.
It also asserted, according to Ukrainian soldiers who had previously surrendered, “there are up to 400 foreign mercenaries who joined the Ukrainian forces” trapped at the plant, including Europeans and Canadians. “In case of further resistance, all of them will be eliminated,” it said.
Shmyhal, Ukraine’s prime minister, said despite the relentless Russian attacks, “not one big city in Ukraine has fallen.”
“Only Kherson is under control of Russian military forces, but all of the rest of the cities are under Ukrainian control,” he said, adding some of the cities in the surrounding areas were “besieged but still under Ukrainian control.”
He said more than 900 Ukrainian cities, towns and villages had been freed from Russian occupation since Moscow took control after the invasion began in late February.
“We still are fighting, and we have battle in Donbas region right now, but we do not have intention to surrender,” Shmyhal said.
How Mariupol is faring
The situation in Mariupol is desperate. Much of the city has been destroyed by Russian shelling. Civilian structures targeted included a maternity hospital and a theater where up to 1,300 people were seeking refuge.
The military governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located, said Tuesday up to 22,000 people may have died in the city. CNN cannot verify the figures, as there are no independent casualty figures from the fighting in the city available.
Though many have fled, an estimated 100,000 people still remain in Mariupol and its immediate surroundings, which are reported to be largely under Russian control.
According to Russian state media, most of the Ukrainian defenders are located in the Azovstal steel works, one of the largest such plants in Europe with a network of rail tracks and furnaces.
Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said resistance to the Russians continued beyond the plant.
“Despite the occupiers’ desire to show that the place of hostilities is limited to the Azovstal Steel Plant, this does not correspond with reality,” Andriushchenko said. “Last night there were fights on the Taganrog Street that is located five kilometers away from Azovstal.”
He said “during the fighting, the occupiers shelled private residential houses with heavy artillery again. The shelling of the port area also continued.”