Ukraine rejects Putin's ultimatum to surrender besieged Mariupol

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A Ukrainian soldier walks past a building hit by a Russian rocket in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, on March 21, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
KYIV — Ukraine rejected a Russian ultimatum to surrender the besieged southern city of Mariupol on Monday, as renewed overnight shelling killed at least eight people at a shopping mall in the capital Kyiv.اضافة اعلان

Almost 350,000 people are trapped without water and electricity in the port city of Mariupol, which has been bombarded by Russian troops for almost a month in what has been described as a "massive war crime" by EU policy chief Josep Borrell.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian bombs struck targets overnight, allegedly damaging a chemical plant in the north of the country causing an "ammonia leakage" that sparked a temporary alarm.

A satellite image of the aftermath of an airstrike in Mariupol, southern Ukraine on March 19, 2022. (Photo: Maxar Technologies/AFP)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Europe to significantly dial up pressure on Moscow to halt its nearly month-long invasion, saying the continent must cease all trade with Russia.

"No euros for the occupiers. Close all of your ports to them. Don't export them your goods. Deny energy resources. Push for Russia to leave Ukraine," Zelensky said in his latest video address.

Ukrainian leaders also stressed they were standing firm against invaders in Mariupol, which is suffering a critical humanitarian crisis.

Defenders of the port city have "played a huge role in destroying the enemy's plans and enhancing our defense," said Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.

"Today Mariupol is saving Kyiv, Dnipro, and Odessa. Everyone must understand this."

The Kremlin's military command had warned authorities in Mariupol had until "5am ... on March 21" to respond to eight pages of demands, which Ukrainian officials said would amount to a capitulation.

Rejecting the ultimatum by Russia to surrender Mariupol, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Moscow should instead allow the trapped residents to escape.

"We can't talk about surrendering weapons," Vereshchuk told the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper.

Mariupol is a pivotal target in Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine — providing a land bridge between Russian forces in Crimea to the southwest and Russian-controlled territory to the north and east.

A Greek diplomat who remained in the city through the bombardment said the devastation would rank alongside history's most ruinous wartime assaults.

"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," Manolis Androulakis, believed to be the last EU diplomat to leave the city, as he arrived back in Athens late Sunday.

Oil embargo warning

The foreign ministers of the EU gathered in Brussels to mull fresh sanctions against Russia.

Some members within the bloc are pushing for an embargo on Russian oil and gas, but Germany has rejected the call outright, warning it could spark social instability.

The Kremlin on Monday heaped on the warnings against such a ban, saying it would have a direct impact on everyone.

"Such an embargo will have a very serious impact on the world energy market, it will have a very serious negative impact on Europe's energy balance," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Energy prices and supply security issues will be on the table at an EU summit on Thursday in Brussels, to be also attended by President Joe Biden.

The US leader will also join in a NATO summit and G7 talks in Brussels, before travelling to Poland on Friday.

There he is expected to hold talks with President Andrzej Duda to discuss a joint response to the humanitarian crisis that has seen more than two million Ukrainians flee to Poland alone.

Humanitarian conditions continued to deteriorate in the mostly Russian-speaking south and east, where Russian forces have been pressing their advance, as well as in the north around Kyiv.

Aid agencies are struggling to reach people trapped in besieged cities.

Around 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, roughly one-third going abroad, the UN refugee agency said.

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