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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Last troops in Mariupol hold on as Russia demands surrender

By Cora Engelbrecht and Austin Ramzy

Russia warned Sunday that the remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol would be “eliminated” if they did not surrender — an ominous sign of a potentially bloody battle to capture the last Ukrainian redoubt in the southern port city that Moscow’s forces have besieged for nearly two months.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Ukrainian forces holding out at a sprawling steel plant in the city had “forbade negotiations about surrendering,” citing an intercepted radio transmission, and repeated a demand that they put down their weapons immediately.

“In case of further resistance,” the ministry said, “all of them will be eliminated.”

The threat raised fears of further bloodshed in Mariupol, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has said that tens of thousands of people have been killed, and officials warn that more than 100,000 remain trapped without proper access to food and water. Accusing Russia of “deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there,” Zelenskyy said Saturday that he would refuse to continue peace talks with Moscow if Russian forces commit further atrocities in the city.

Capturing the city would be a significant advance for Russia in its bid to control Ukraine’s southeastern coast, complete a land bridge to occupied Crimea and refocus more of its forces toward a pivotal battle in the east.

But the fight against determined Ukrainian forces in Mariupol tied up Russia’s military for nearly two months and highlighted its limitations. Moscow’s forces have faced weeks of setbacks elsewhere, including the withdrawal from areas around Kyiv, the deaths of several generals in battle and the humiliating loss last week of the Moskva, a guided missile cruiser in the Black Sea.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it destroyed military targets in Kyiv and Mykolaiv on Saturday, in what analysts said was likely retaliation for the sinking of the ship. A military plant outside the Ukrainian capital was also hit Sunday, and at least five people were reportedly killed when a rocket barrage slammed into the eastern city of Kharkiv, setting apartment buildings and a market on fire.

Here are some other major developments:

— The fate of much of the Moskva’s 500-member crew remained unclear, although Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video of what it said were dozens of crew members meeting with an admiral in Sevastopol on Saturday.

— The Ukrainian government said it had failed to reach an agreement with Russia on opening any corridors Sunday for civilians looking to escape fighting in southern and eastern Ukraine. Despite the impasse, the governor of the Luhansk region in the east encouraged people to evacuate on scheduled trains and buses, saying in a Telegram post: “Hurry to save yourself while we can help you.”

— Pope Francis pleaded for peace in an Easter message delivered from St. Peter’s Square, saying he held in his heart the millions of Ukrainian victims of the war and refugees, and thanked families who have welcomed those fleeing the fighting into their homes.

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