Chris Lange, FISM News
Defiant Ukrainian defenders holed up in a sprawling steel plant in Mariupol ignored a surrender-or-die ultimatum from Moscow on Sunday. Russian forces now encircle the southern port city that has been laid waste as a result of a brutal seven-week siege.
The capture of Mariuopol would signify a major victory for Russia, creating a coveted land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, as well as control of key industrial assets. Russia has estimated that around 2,500 Ukrainian troops and hundreds of foreign mercenaries are currently inside the Azovstal plant, which covers more than four square miles. Civilians, including children, are also sheltering at the site.
Moscow had given the Ukrainian fighters until midday Monday to surrender and “keep their lives,” but the offer, like previous ultimatums, was rejected.
“We will fight absolutely to the end, to the win, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on ABC’s “This Week.” Shmyhal said Ukraine is still willing to negotiate a peace agreement with Russia, “but we do not have intention to surrender.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal tells @GStephanopoulos that the country will continue to try to stop the war diplomatically.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 18, 2022
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that those who remain in Mariupol are now surrounded, though they “continue their struggle,” adding that the city “doesn’t exist anymore.” Mariupol officials have estimated that at least 21,000 people are dead. Around 100,000 Ukrainians have been trapped in the city without food, water, or electricity, since the beginning of the war, leading humanitarian organizations to fear that many have died as a result of starvation or exposure.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian soldiers in parts of southern Ukraine have been carrying out kidnappings and torture as he made another plea for the world to respond by sending more weapons during his nightly televised address Sunday.
“Torture chambers are built there,” he said. “They abduct representatives of local governments and anyone deemed visible to local communities.”
Zelenskyy said Sunday that Ukraine desperately needs more weapons.
“We need it sooner. We need it now,” he said. “Is it enough? We don’t think so.”
Two Britons held by Russia ask for prisoner swap
Two British soldiers captured in Mariupol by Russian forces appeared on Russian state TV on Monday, asking to be exchanged for pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is being held by Ukrainian authorities, according to Reuters.
Britons Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin spoke separately in the footage, both asking British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to bring them home in exchange for Medvedchuk, who also pleaded for a swap in a video aired by Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service. Medvedchuk asked both Zelenskyy and Putin to exchange him for the Mariupol defenders and requested that civilians trapped in the city be allowed to leave.
Russia continues aerial strikes near Ukraine’s capital
Elsewhere, Russian forces continued launching aerial attacks near Kyiv following last week’s sinking of the flagship of the Kremlin’s Black Sea Fleet. Moscow said it had attacked an ammunition plant near the capital city on Sunday using precision-guided missiles.
Explosions also rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where at least 57 people were recently killed by rockets that struck a crowded train station where civilians queued for trains to transport them to safety.
Meanwhile, officials in Kharkiv reported Sunday that at least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s second-largest city, striking an apartment building and other targets. Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov rebuked Moscow for not relenting in their attacks on a holy day during an Orthadox Palm Sunday address.
President Zelenskyy called the Kharkiv bombing “nothing but deliberate terror.”
In the Donbas region, Russian forces shelled residential areas in the town of Zolote, according to a regional official.
Austrian Chancellor meets with Putin
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Russian President Vladimir Putin exists “in his own war logic” after meeting with the leader in Moscow over the weekend. Nehammer, who is the first European leader to meet with Putin since the Feb. 24 invasion, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Russian president thinks he is winning the war, adding that “we have to confront him with that, what we see in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Russian-trained members of Syria’s Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan’s division may soon arrive in Ukraine to fight alongside Russian troops. Russian officials early on in the war bragged that more than 16,000 fighters from the Middle East had volunteered to join the fight against Ukraine, though U.S. officials say they have yet to see a significant number join Kremlin forces on the front lines.
Military analysts, however, warn that this is likely to change, particularly since Putin recently named Gen. Alexander Dvornikov as Russia’s new war commander. Dvornikov led Moscow’s military campaign in Syria in 2015.