NO SURRENDER: Ukraine rejects Russian demand to lay down arms in Mariupol

Joe Biden to speak to European leaders on Monday ahead of visit to Poland this week

Ukrainians escaping gather on a train station platform after arriving at Lviv on Sunday. 

By Sandy Bell in Mariupol

Ukrainian officials have rejected a Russian demand that their forces in the besieged strategic port city of Mariupol lay down arms and raise white flags in exchange for safe passage out.

Russia has been shelling the encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov, hitting an art school sheltering about 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.

Fighting for Mariupol has continued to be intense, even as the Russian offensive in other areas has floundered to the point where Western governments and analysts see the broader conflict grinding into a war of attrition.

Ukrainian officials rejected the Russian proposal even before Moscow’s 5am deadline for a response came and went.

“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.”

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

Russian colonel general Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two 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 Defence 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.

US president Joe Biden will on Monday speak with French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi and UK prime minister Boris Johnson. On Thursday he will attend a meeting of Nato leaders.

The US president will travel to Poland on Friday to discuss efforts to support Ukraine. The White House said: “He will hold a bilateral meeting with president Andrzej Duda. The president will discuss how the United States, alongside our allies and partners, is responding to the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created.”

A large shopping center on the outskirts of Kyiv was shelled overnight, setting off a fire. Agence France-Presse reported that at least six people were killed and the 10-story building was significantly damaged.

About 10 million Ukrainians had been displaced, including some 3.4 million who have fled to neighbouring countries, the UN refugee agency said.

Previous bids to allow residents to evacuate Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities have failed or have been only partially successful, with bombardments continuing as civilians sought to flee.

Tearful evacuees from the city have described how “battles took place over every street”.

Ahead of the latest offer, a Russian air strike hit the school where about 400 civilians had been taking shelter and it was not clear how many casualties there were, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address early 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 one 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 Zelenskiy told CNN, but with “weapons in their hands”.

Three weeks into the invasion, the two sides now seem to be trying to wear the other down, experts say, with bogged down Russian forces launching long-range missiles at cities and military bases as Ukrainian forces carry out hit-and-run attacks and seek to sever their supply lines.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are calling on Priti Patel to withdraw the Nationality and Borders Bill in light of the war in Ukraine and ensuing refugee crisis.

MPs are set to debate some of the Bill’s most controversial aspects in the House of Commons tomorrow [Tuesday 22nd March], including Government plans to:

  • Criminalise refugees simply for coming to the UK to seek asylum.
  • “Offshore” asylum seekers by sending them to another country while their claims are processed.
  • Create a second class of refugees with fewer rights and only temporary protection.

The Liberal Democrats worked with others in the House of Lords to pass amendments that would remove these laws from the Bill, highlighting that they would criminalise people fleeing Ukraine who come to the UK seeking asylum.

So far, 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Vladimir Putin unleashed his war, according to the UNHCR. More than 150,000 people across the UK have offered to host Ukrainian refugees through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ programme, but so far the Government has only issued 10,200 visas under the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has called on the Government to begin airlifts to bring refugees from Poland directly to the UK.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said:  “The Conservatives’ Anti-Refugee Bill is dangerous and cruel. It flies in the face of the enormous compassion and generosity that people across the UK have shown in response to people fleeing Putin’s war in Ukraine.

“It beggars belief that Priti Patel is still trying to push this Bill through at a time when protecting refugees has never been so important. She should listen to the British people and ditch it now.

“The UK has a great history of providing sanctuary to desperate people fleeing war and persecution. This Anti-Refugee Bill undermines that proud British tradition and Liberal Democrats will continue to fiercely oppose it.”

Leave a Reply