Mariupol, the last stronghold of Ukrainian troops in the south-east of the country, appears to be very close to falling — but by Sunday afternoon the forces loyal to Kyiv were still holding out.
Russia has given Ukrainian soldiers in the area, a chilling ultimatum to “surrender or die”. A Russian defence ministry spokesman has warned that “all those who continue resistance will be destroyed”.
But Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said that the key port was still holding despite the continuing Russian attacks.
Hanna Malyar said on Sunday that the Russians have continued to hit Mariupol with air raids and were possibly preparing an amphibious landing to beef up their forces in the city.
Earlier on Sunday, the Russian defence ministry said Ukrainian troops in the besieged port had been told that if they lay down their weapons they will be “guaranteed to keep their lives”.
Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev of the Russian military said that the Ukrainians encircled at the giant Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol had been given until 13.00 local time (10.00 GMT, 12.00 CET) to surrender.
The giant Azovstal steel mill that covers an area of more than 11 square kilometres is the last major section of Mariupol still under Ukrainian control.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of “deliberately trying to destroy everyone who is there”, and again demanded more heavy weapons from the West.
Late on Saturday he admitted that the situation in Mariupol remained “extremely severe” but did not acknowledge that the city could fall. He warned Moscow that peace talks would be scrapped if the city’s remaining defenders were killed.
Capturing Mariupol is a key strategic goal for Russia, allowing it to secure a land corridor to Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014. The fall of Mariupol would also free the Russian forces involved in the siege for a planned offensive in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas region.
Despite Russia’s assurances that its offensive would focus on the east of the country, the sinking of the Moskva missile cruiser, which Russia attributes to various non-combat causes, has led to new attacks on targets in the capital, and in western Ukraine.
In Kharkiv, continued Russian shelling is leaving the city in ruins. More and more people are trying to escape to the west, perhaps with the ultimate aim of leaving the country. Ukrainian authorities say that Fridays attack by russian forces has killed several and wounded over 50 people.
Last week, the EU has announced that it will provide funding and support to the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court to help document and collect evidence of war crimes that Russian troops have left in their wake.
For Sunday’s latest developments in the war in Ukraine, follow our live blog here.