Ukraine rejects Russia's demand to surrender Mariupol

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on the trauma felt by the people of Mariupol as the Russian encirclement creates a humanitarian disaster

Ukraine has rejected a Russian ultimatum that people in the besieged city of Mariupol lay down their arms on Monday in exchange for safe passage out of town.

The demand came hours after Ukrainian authorities said Moscow’s forces bombed an art school that was sheltering about 400 people in the city.

In a briefing given out by Russia's defence ministry on Sunday, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Centre for Defence Management told Ukrainians in Mariupol to "lay down your arms".

"All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol," he said.

'This does sound ominous': ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reported on the warning from Russia's ministry of defence on Sunday's News At Ten

Russian state-run news agency Tass reported that Mariupol residents had been given until 5am on Monday to respond to the offer.

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev had offered two corridors - one heading east towards Russia and the other west to other parts of Ukraine.

He did not say what Russia would do if the Ukrainians do not surrender.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Irina Vereshchuk rejected Moscow's notion.

“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side about this,” she told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda.

“I wrote: ‘Instead of wasting time on eight pages of letters, just open the corridor.”

A man looks at a burned apartment building that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine Credit: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Mariupol mayor Piotr Andryushchenko also rejected the offer shortly after it was made, saying in a Facebook post he did not need to wait until the morning deadline to respond. He also cursed at the Russians.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they sided with what it described as “bandits”, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Why is Mariupol so important to the Russians?

The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine to link up.

Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of UK Joint Forces Command, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mariupol's collapse would also complete a landbridge from Russia to Crimea, which will be a “major strategic success” to the Russians.

But some other Western military analysts say that even if Mariupol is taken, the troops battling a block at a time for control there may be too depleted to help secure Russian breakthroughs on other fronts.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

In recent days, tens of thousands of people have fled Mariupol along evacuation corridors, but around 300,000 are thought to still be trapped.

Russia has been repeatedly accused of firing on civilians using evacuation corridors and ignoring ceasefires it has agreed to.

'There are no buildings anymore'

Mariupol has been the site of some of the war’s greatest suffering, with workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross describing scenes there as apocalyptic.

Mass graves have been dug for the dead.

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An elderly Ukrainian refugee who arrived in Poland on Monday said 90% of Mariupol "has been destroyed".

Arriving at Medyka border crossing, Maria Fiodorova, who travelled for five days and arrived in a wheelchair, added "there are no buildings there any more".

Ukrainian refugees were also still arriving in Przemysl, near Poland's border with Ukraine.

Ludmila Bila, who fled Mykolayiv, said of the invasion: "They are shooting and the children are nearby and we can't protect them. It is very scary but we have hope."

People queue to receive hot food in a improvised bomb shelter in Mariupol. Credit: AP

In a statement, the Mariupol city council said Russian soldiers have forced several thousand residents - mostly women and children - to leave and be relocated to Russia.

It did not say where in Russia and the claim could not be independently confirmed.

Food is running out in Mariupol, and the Russians have reported to have being stopping humanitarian attempts to bring it in.

Electricity is also mostly gone and water is sparse, with residents melting snow to drink.