Ukraine war: Mariupol ultimatum passes as hundreds shelter in steel mill

The deadline of a Russian ultimatum demanding the surrender of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol has passed with no sign that the troops have complied.

The final Ukrainian holdouts, reportedly accompanied by 1,000 civilians, have taken shelter in the city’s massive Azovstal steel plant.

Moscow’s ultimatum comes as the local Ukrainian commander warned his troops can hold out for just “days or hours”.

But Kyiv says there is a tentative deal to rescue some civilians from the city.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, wrote on Facebook that women, children and the elderly would be allowed to leave Mariupol under the deal.

The city’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, told national TV that Ukraine hopes to send 90 buses to evacuate about 6,000 people on Wednesday. He said around 100,000 people remain trapped in Mariupol.

Remaining civilians wishing to leave were instructed to gather at 14:00 local time (11:00 GMT), when it was hoped a convoy of buses would take them towards western Ukraine.

But it is not clear whether the evacuation has yet taken place.

“It’s too early to tell what will happen,” Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov told the BBC.

He added that city officials still hadn’t received confirmation from Russian forces that the residents would be allowed out.

The Azovstal Iron and Steel Works – a massive, four sq-mile (10 sq km) plant in the south-east of the city – has become the last centre of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.

A map of Mariupol

As Russian forces advanced slowly into the heart of Mariupol, the sprawling complex became a home to thousands of Ukrainian soldiers, including fighters from the Azov battalion – a controversial national guard unit with links to the far-right.

The site is a mass of tunnels and workshops, and provides a natural advantage to defenders.

Yan Gagin, an official with the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russian state news network RIA Novosti over the weekend that there is “basically another city” beneath the plant.

Russia has been bombarding the factory with artillery and air raids, and Moscow has issued two demands for the troops to surrender. An advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia is targeting the defenders with bunker busters – colossal bombs designed to penetrate thick armour and kill targets underground.

Smoke rises over the Azovstal plant after a Russian bombardment
Image caption,Smoke rises over the Azovstal plant after a Russian bombardment

This is the second ultimatum Ukrainian troops at the plant have faced this week. Despite this, and the vicious nature of the Russian siege, Ukraine’s defence ministry said not a single soldier surrendered when a similar ultimatum lapsed on Monday.

Source: BBC

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