Lvov, Ukraine. On Monday, Ukrainian officials defiantly rejected Russia’s demand that its forces in Mariupol lay down their arms and wave white flags in exchange for a safe exit from the besieged strategic port city.
While Russia stepped up its bombardment of Mariupol to secure its surrender, its offensive elsewhere in Ukraine has stalled. Western governments and analysts see the wider conflict turning into a war of attrition as Russia continues to bomb cities.
In the capital Kyiv, Russian artillery shelling destroyed a shopping mall near the city center, killing at least eight people and leaving a sea of rubble among scarred skyscrapers. Ukrainian authorities also said Russia had bombed a chemical plant in the country’s northeast, causing an ammonia leak, and had fired cruise missiles at a military training base in the west.
The besieged southern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov experienced some of the worst horrors of the war as Russia bombarded it for more than three weeks. The strikes hit the art school, which has about 400 students, just hours before Russia offered to open two corridors out of the city in exchange for surrendering its defenders, Ukrainian officials say.
Ukrainian officials have rejected Russia’s offer of a safe exit from Mariupol even before the Russian deadline of 5 am Moscow time (0200 GMT).
“There can be no question of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Irina Vereshchuk told the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda. We have already informed the Russian side about this.”
Mariupol Mayor Petr Andryushchenko was also quick to dismiss the offer, saying in a Facebook post that he didn’t have to wait for a deadline to respond and cursing the Russians, the Interfax.Ukraine news agency reported.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev proposed two corridors – one east to Russia and one west to other parts of Ukraine. He did not say what Russia plans to do if the proposal is rejected.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Mariupol authorities could face court-martial if they side with the so-called “bandits,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Repeated attempts to evacuate residents of Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine were only partially successful, with continued shelling as civilians tried to flee. Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people died during the siege, including some who were buried in mass graves.
Ahead of the rejected surrender offer, a Russian airstrike hit a school where about 400 civilians were hiding, and the number of casualties is unknown, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message on Monday.
“They are under the rubble and we don’t know how many survived,” he said. He said that Ukraine “will shoot the pilot who dropped this bomb.”
The art school strike was the second time in less than a week that officials reported an attack on a public building where Mariupol residents had taken refuge. On Wednesday, a bomb blast destroyed a theater where more than 1,000 people were reported to have taken refuge. According to the latest data, about 130 people survived.
In both cases, children were clearly marked around the buildings to alert Russian forces to their presence.
City officials and aid groups say Mariupol has run out of food, water and electricity, and fighting has prevented humanitarian aid convoys from entering. Communications are cut off.
The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to unite. But Western military analysts say that even if the city is taken, the troops fighting around corner after corner may be too exhausted to secure a Russian breakthrough on other fronts.
Experts say that after more than three weeks of invasion, both sides appear to be trying to wear each other down. Stuck Russian forces are shelling cities and military bases with long-range missiles, while Ukrainian forces launch lightning strikes and try to cut Russian supply lines.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pointed out that Ukrainian resistance means “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces on the ground are essentially inactive.”
Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine continued but failed to overcome the split between the two sides: Russia demanded the disarmament of Ukraine, and Ukraine said that Russian troops should be withdrawn from all countries.
US President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet later Monday with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK to discuss the war and then travel to Brussels and then Poland this week for face-to-face talks.
In major Ukrainian cities, hundreds of men, women and children were killed as a result of attacks by Russian troops.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said a Russian shell hit a chemical plant near the eastern city of Sumy just after 3 a.m. Monday, causing a 50-tonne ammonia tank to leak and take hours to contain.
Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the leak was a “planned provocation” by Ukrainian forces to falsely blame Russia for the chemical attack.
Konashenkov also said that a night-time cruise missile hit a military training center in the Rivne region in western Ukraine. He claimed that 80 foreign and Ukrainian soldiers were killed, although this figure cannot be confirmed by independent sources. Vitaliy Koval, the head of the Rivne regional military administration, confirmed that a double Russian missile attack on the training center had taken place on Monday morning, but did not give details of the casualties or deaths.
Russian troops have been shelling Kyiv for almost a month now and are trying to surround the capital, which had a population of about three million before the war.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukrainian resistance has kept the bulk of Russian forces more than 25 kilometers from the city center, but Kyiv “remains Russia’s main military target.”
The UN has confirmed 902 civilian deaths during the war, but acknowledges that the true toll is likely much higher. It states that almost 3.4 million people have left Ukraine. Estimates of mortality in Russia vary, but even the most modest figures run into the thousands.
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said at least 115 children were killed and 148 were injured.
Some Russians have also fled their country amid a widespread crackdown on dissent. Russia has arrested thousands of anti-war demonstrators, silenced independent media outlets and shut down social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.