Kyiv: The battered port city of Mariupol appeared on the brink of falling to Russian forces Sunday after seven weeks under siege, a development that what would give Moscow a crucial success in Ukraine following Russia’s failure to storm the capital and the loss of its Black Sea flagship.
The Russian military estimated that about 2,500 Ukrainian fighters holding out at a hulking steel plant with a warren of underground passageways provided the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol. Russia gave a deadline for their surrender, saying those who put down their weapons were guaranteed to keep their lives, but the Ukrainians did not submit.
“All those who will continue resistance will be destroyed, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said. He said intercepted communications indicated there were about 400 foreign mercenaries along with the Ukrainian troops at the Azovstal steel mill, a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.
In a reminder that no part of Ukraine was immune until the war ends, Russian forces carried out new missile strikes Sunday near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capacity before the anticipated assault in the east.
After the humiliating loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s military command vowed Friday to step up missile strikes on the capital. The Russian military said Sunday that it had attacked an ammunition plant near Kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such strike in as many days.
Russia renewed attacks on Kyiv after accusing Ukrainian forces of airstrikes on Russian territory that wounded seven people and damaged about 100 residential buildings in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed hitting targets in Russia.
The Russian military also claimed Sunday to have destroyed Ukrainian air defense radars in the east, near Sievierodonetsk, as well as several ammunition depots elsewhere. Explosions were reported overnight in Kramatorsk, an eastern city where rockets killed at least 57 people at a train station crowded with civilians trying to evacuate before the expected Russian offensive.
So far, tunnels at the sprawling Azovstal steel mill, which covers an area of more than 11 square kilometers (over 4.2 square miles), have allowed the defenders to hide and resist until they run out of ammunition.
With Russia apparently poised to declare victory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the city’s fall could scuttle any attempt at a negotiated peace.
Like Mariupol, the northeast city of Kharkiv has been an ongoing target of Russian aggression since the early days of the invasion and has seen conditions deteriorate ahead of the eastern offensive.
Multiple rockets struck the center of the Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday, according to Associated Press journalists who were there. At least two people were killed and four others were injured, though the scale of the attack suggested the toll could rise.
The barrage slammed into apartment buildings and left broken glass, debris and the part of at least one rocket scattered on the street. Firefighters and residents scrambled to douse flames in several apartments that caught fire.
On Saturday, three people were killed and 34 wounded when an explosion believed to have been caused by a missile went off near an outdoor market, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. Local officials said 10 people died in rocket attacks on residential areas of Kharkiv on Friday.