Ukraine says situation in Mariupol ‘very difficult’, evacuation efforts blocked

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of tanks on the outskirts of Mariupol on March 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

LVIV (REUTERS) - Ukraine described the situation in Mariupol on Monday (March 21) as “very difficult” and said it had been unable to establish a new safe corridor to evacuate civilians from the besieged city after it defied a Russian ultimatum to surrender.

Russia had said on Sunday that a "terrible humanitarian catastrophe" was unfolding in Mariupol and ordered Ukrainians in the south-eastern city to surrender by 5am on Monday (11am Singapore time), saying those who did so would be permitted to leave through safe corridors.

"Lay down your arms," Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Centre for Defence Management, said in a briefing distributed by the defence ministry.

"A terrible humanitarian catastrophe has developed," Col-Gen Mizintsev said. "All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol."

“Of course we rejected these proposals,” Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said afterwards.

Ms Vereshchuk said Russia’s actions are "a deliberate manipulation". "Instead of spending time on eight pages on letters, just open the corridor," she said. 

Mariupol, a port on the Azov Sea, was home to 400,000 people before the war. It has been under siege and bombardment, with no food, medicine, power or fresh water, since the early days of Russia’s invasion on Feb 24.

Ms Vereshchuk said agreement had been reached with Russia on creating eight humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and cities on Monday but Mariupol was not among them. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Ms Vereshchuk said efforts to reach Mariupol with humanitarian supplies continued to fail.

“The situation there is very difficult,” she added. 

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the failure to open such corridors in recent weeks.

Col-Gen Mizintsev, without providing evidence, said that Ukrainian"bandits", "neo-Nazis" and nationalists had engaged in "mass terror" and gone on a killing spree in the city.

Ukraine says it is fighting for its existence and President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that the siege of Mariupol was "a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come".

The West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia that the Kremlin says amount to a declaration of economic war by the United States and its allies.

Separately, Moscow said on Monday that peace talks with Kyiv had yet to yield any major breakthroughs. It called on countries that can exert influence over Ukraine to use their clout to make Kyiv more constructive at the negotiations.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said significant progress in the talks still had to be made for there to be a basis for a possible meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Remote video URL

Col-Gen Mizintsev said Russia was not using heavy weapons in Mariupol. He said Russia had evacuated 59,304 people out of the city but that 130,000 civilians remained as effective hostages there.

He said 330,686 people had been evacuated from Ukraine by Russia since the start of the "operation".

Meanwhile, the situation in Mariupol has deteriorated further.

And death is sometimes not caused by weapons.

Pausing with his shovel, one resident, Mr Andrei said the neighbours he was burying were not killed by Russian shells or grenades but had died of ailments exacerbated by the huge stress of the past few weeks after being unable to get medical help.

“The bombs did not kill them but all this... the situation – the basements, the lack of physical activity, the stress, the cold as well,” he said.

A residential building which was damaged in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 18, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting in a basement that has now been her home for 11 days, Ms Irina Chernenko, a librarian at the university, said she did not know how much longer they could survive like this.“We hope for the best – to live as human beings.

"The apartment block is destroyed, everything is destroyed. Where can we go from the basement?” she said.

“We’re cooking at a fire. For now we have some food and some firewood. In a week we will have nothing, no food at all.”

Some parts of the city are controlled by Russian forces and some remain under Ukrainian control, so residents do not know the fate of relatives who live in other districts.

A Greek diplomat who remained in the besieged Ukraine city of Mariupol during the bombardment said on Sunday  the destruction would rank alongside Stalingrad and Aleppo.

Speaking after flying back to Athens Greek Consul General in Mariupol, Mr Manolis Androulakis, said: “Mariupol will be included in a list of cities in the world that were completely destroyed by the war, such as Guernica, Stalingrad, Grozny, Aleppo.” 

The Mariupol city council said on its Telegram channel late on Saturday that several thousand residents had been "deported" to Russia over the past week.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced more than 3 million and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States Russian President Vladimir Putin says the "special military operation" in Ukraine was necessary to disarm and "denazify" its neighbour.

Some parts of the city are controlled by Russian forces and some remain under Ukrainian control, so residents do not know the fate of relatives who live in other districts.

A Greek diplomat who remained in the besieged Ukraine city of Mariupol during the bombardment said on Sunday  the destruction would rank alongside Stalingrad and Aleppo.

Speaking after flying back to Athens Greek Consul General in Mariupol, Mr Manolis Androulakis, said: “Mariupol will be included in a list of cities in the world that were completely destroyed by the war, such as Guernica, Stalingrad, Grozny, Aleppo.” 

The Mariupol city council said on its Telegram channel late on Saturday that several thousand residents had been "deported" to Russia over the past week.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced more than 3 million and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States Russian President Vladimir Putin says the "special military operation" in Ukraine was necessary to disarm and "denazify" its neighbour.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.