Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, encircled by Russians, appear to ignore calls to surrender

Published April 17, 2022 at 9:37 AM EDT
A man gestures as a train for internally displaced people prepares to leave the main railway station in Zaporijia, southern Ukraine, on April 17.
Ed Jones
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AFP via Getty Images
A man gestures as a train for internally displaced people prepares to leave the main railway station in Zaporijia, southern Ukraine, on April 17.

A Sunday morning deadline for Ukrainian forces to surrender in the besieged city of Mariupol has passed without any indication that Ukraine has given in to the Russian ultimatum. Meanwhile, Russia is launching artillery and missile strikes against cities and civilians in Ukraine's east and south.

Here's more context to understand Ukraine and the impact of the invasion:

Follow the latest developments.

Ukraine's top prosecutor says the Russian invasion has killed more than 200 children

Posted April 17, 2022 at 2:37 PM EDT
Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova visits a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on April 13, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
Fadel Senna
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AFP via Getty Images
Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova visits a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on April 13, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian invasion.

At least 202 children have been killed in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion, according to a press release from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office.

In addition to the fatalities, more than 361 children have been injured in the war, officials said.

Those figures come from official data provided by juvenile prosecutors.

The numbers are preliminary, as officials said they were still working to establish the number of children killed and wounded in areas of active hostilities.

UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, estimates that nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have been displaced in the conflict.

According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office, the Donetsk region saw the most youth casualties with 117, while the Kyiv region had 106 deaths and injuries among children.

Officials also said Russian bombing and shelling destroyed 95 educational institutions and damaged another 923.

The threat to Kyiv

Russia renews attacks on Kyiv region after retreating from the capital

Posted April 17, 2022 at 1:21 PM EDT
A teenager sits on a swing in a play ground opposit an apartment block destroyed in bombardment, in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka, in the Kyiv region on April 17, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky
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AFP via Getty Images
A teenager sits on a swing in a play ground opposit an apartment block destroyed in bombardment, in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka, in the Kyiv region on April 17, 2022.

Although Russian troops largely pulled out of the Kyiv area earlier this month, a string of attacks on the region in recent days have served as a reminder of the threat still facing the Ukrainian capital.

“Second day now explosions in #Kyiv. Left bank this time,” Lesia Vasylenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said in a tweet on Saturday.

“No, #Russia didn’t shift to the East alone. All in attacks still continue,” she added.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday that it had destroyed an ammunition factory near the city of Brovary, in the Kyiv region, overnight.

Last week the Russian military vowed to step up attacks on the capital, according to the Associated Press.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told residents who had left the city earlier in the war not to come back due to the threat of more violence, the AP reported.

“We’re not ruling out further strikes on the capital,” Klitschko said. “If you have the opportunity to stay a little bit longer in the cities where it’s safer, do it.”

Pope Francis calls for peace in Ukraine following Easter Sunday mass

Posted April 17, 2022 at 11:01 AM EDT
Pope Francis delivers the Easter "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica overlooking St. Peter's square on April 17, 2022 in The Vatican.
Tiziana Fabi
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AFP via Getty Images
Pope Francis delivers the Easter "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica overlooking St. Peter's square on April 17, 2022 in The Vatican.

After the Easter Sunday mass in Vatican City, Pope Francis called for an end to the “cruel and senseless war” in Ukraine and made a plea for peace there and in other conflicts throughout the world.

"May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged," Francis told a crowd of worshipers from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church also made reference to the threat of nuclear war, quoting a message from scientists in 1955. “Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?” Pope Francis said.

Civilian evacuations

Ukraine says humanitarian corridors will not be open on Sunday due to failed talks

Posted April 17, 2022 at 10:49 AM EDT
Children play around a table during a party to welcome a new baby born to the owners of the Mercy House, a shelter for people in need and currently housing families fleeing from Russian advances in the Donbass and Mariupol areas of Ukraine, on the outskirts of Dnipro on April 15, 2022.
Ed Jones
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AFP via Getty Images
Children play around a table during a party to welcome a new baby born to the owners of the Mercy House, a shelter for people in need and currently housing families fleeing from Russian advances in the Donbass and Mariupol areas of Ukraine, on the outskirts of Dnipro on April 15, 2022.

As many as 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol with no way out.

Ukraine and Russia haven’t been able to agree on the conditions to create a humanitarian corridor out of the city in recent days, but Ukrainian officials continue to call for safe passage for those who are attempting to flee the violence there.

“Once again, we demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians, especially women and children, from Mariupol,” Ukrainian vice prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Telegram in a post translated from Ukrainian. The lack of any progress in negotiations meant no corridor would be opened on Sunday, she said.

“Also through the relevant international structures, we demand from the occupiers to open a special corridor for the evacuation of wounded soldiers from Mariupol,” she added.

Vereshchuk reported that some people had still been able to escape Mariupol “by their own transport” and that humanitarian corridors had been established in other cities.

Last week Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, told the Associated Press that more than 10,000 civilians had died during the Russian assault on the city.

Strategy

Why Mariupol is so important in the fight for Ukraine

Posted April 17, 2022 at 10:34 AM EDT
This picture shows the partially destroyed Mariupol drama theatre, bombed on March 16.
Alexander Nemenov
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AFP via Getty Images
This picture shows the partially destroyed Mariupol drama theatre, which was bombed on March 16.

Why is Mariupol so important? To start, the besieged city is located in a key area in Ukraine. As NPR’s Laurel Wamsley reported last month:

Mariupol is located between Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the region of Eastern Ukraine called Donbas, much of which was already controlled by Russian-backed separatists … By controlling Mariupol, Russia could potentially create a land bridge to Crimea and control the entire north shore of the Sea of Azov.

Mariupol is also a key port city, a major site for exporting Ukrainian steel and grain during peacetime. As Wamsley noted: "If Russia effectively cuts off Mariupol for the long term, and with it access to the Sea of Azov, it will damage Ukraine's finances and economic sustainability, hindering the country's ability to sell and ship its products."

The city could also prove highly pivotal at some point down the road, she reported, around any potential negotiations toward a cease-fire that involves the drawing of new boundary lines. "If Mariupol falls to Russia, new lines could mean that it ends up as part of a Donbas that is controlled by Russia or as an independent republic, recognized by Russia."

Read more about the importance of Mariupol here.

The fight in Mariupol

Russia tells remaining Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol to surrender

Posted April 17, 2022 at 9:46 AM EDT
An aerial view taken on April 12, 2022, shows the city of Mariupol, during Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine.
Andrey Borodulin
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AFP via Getty Images
An aerial view taken on April 12, 2022, shows the city of Mariupol, during Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine.

The Russian military has told a group of Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to lay down their arms and surrender “in order to save their lives.”

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a briefing tweeted by the ministry that the group included up to 400 “foreign mercenaries.”

Russian forces had given the Ukrainian forces a deadline of 6 a.m. local time on Sunday to surrender. Konashenkov said Ukraine’s government forbade negotiations about service members surrendering in Mariupol.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the situation in Mariupol as “inhuman.” Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the besieged city as Russian forces continue to bombard it with attacks and prepare to launch a new offensive in the area.

NPR’s Brian Mann said on Weekend Edition Sunday that Russia is looking to take full control of Mariupol after struggling to fully capture it in the first 50 days of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Capturing Mariupol would give Russia an important win, and it would also allow the Russian army to begin to pivot to attacks in the eastern Donbas region,” he said.