MARIUPOL - Ukrainian forces besieged in Mariupol have rejected Russia’s demands to surrender and are still resisting an unrelenting assault on the southeastern port city, top Ukrainian officials said on Sunday.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the city, which has been surrounded by Russian troops since March 1, has not fallen. Ukrainian troops trapped in the city are holding out against the Russian onslaught despite overwhelming odds. But they are confined to pockets of resistance, and their numbers are unclear.

“There are still our military forces, our soldiers so they will fight until the end and as for now they are still in Mariupol,” Shmyhal said on ABC News’ “This Week” after a Russian-set deadline for Kyiv’s forces in the city to surrender passed on Sunday. An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol also rejected the Russian ultimatum earlier on Sunday. Petro Andriushchenko said on Telegram that “as of today, our defenders continue to hold the defense.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defense has called on the Ukrainian soldiers still in Mariupol to surrender by 1 p.m. local time on Sunday, warning that anyone still resisting after the deadline “will be eliminated.” The ministry has later confirmed that the ultimatum had been ignored. In a statement, the Russian ministry said that the surrounded Ukrainian soldiers «were offered to voluntarily lay down arms and surrender in order to save their lives.» “However, the Kiev nationalist regime, according to the radio intercept, forbade negotiations about surrendering,” the Ministry claimed.

It also asserted that according to Ukrainian soldiers who had previously surrendered “there are up to 400 foreign mercenaries who joined the Ukrainian forces” trapped at the plant, including Europeans and Canadians. “In case of further resistance, all of them will be eliminated,” it said.

Shmyhal said that despite the relentless Russian attacks, “not one big city in Ukraine has fallen.” Only Kherson is under control of Russian military forces but all of the rest of the cities are under Ukrainian control,” he said, adding that some of the cities in the surrounding areas were “besieged but still under Ukrainian control.”

He said that more than 900 Ukrainian cities, towns and villages had been freed from Russian occupation since Moscow took control after the invasion began in late February. “We still are fighting and we have battle in Donbas region right now but we do not have intention to surrender,” Shmyhal said. The situation in Mariupol is desperate. Much of the city has been completely destroyed by Russian shelling. Civilian structures that have been targeted included a maternity hospital and a theater where up to 1,300 people had been seeking refuge.

The military governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located, said on Tuesday up to 22,000 people may have died in the city. CNN cannot verify these figures, as there are no independent casualty figures from the fighting in the city available.

Though many have fled, an estimated 100,000 people still remain in Mariupol and its immediate surroundings, which are reported to be largely under Russian control.

According to Russian state media, most of the Ukrainian defenders are located in the Azovstal steel works, one of the largest such plants in Europe with a network of rail tracks and furnaces. Andriushchenko said resistance to the Russians continued beyond this plant.

“Despite the occupiers’ desire to show that the place of hostilities is limited to the Azovstal Steel Plant, this is does not correspond with reality,” Andriushchenko said. “Last night there were fights on the Taganrog Street that is located five kilometers away from Azovstal.”

He said that “during the fighting, the occupiers shelled private residential houses with heavy artillery again. The shelling of the port area also continued.”

Strikes leave five dead in east Ukraine city of Kharkiv

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KHARKIV

A series of strikes Sunday in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv in the north east of the war-scarred country left at least five dead and 13 injured, a regional health official told AFP.

Maksym Khaustov, the head of the Kharkiv region’s health department, confirmed the deaths following a series of strikes that AFP journalists on the scene said had ignited fires throughout the city and torn roofs from buildings hit in the attacks.

AFP heard two incoming salvos and witnessed five fires spread over residential areas in central Kharkiv. Fire engines raced in every direction across the city centre and deployed ladders to reach smouldering apartments on the top floor.

In the moments after the strikes, there was a sense of panic in the street, with pedestrians fleeing and cars speeding from the scene.

At one site, AFP saw a blood-stained coat next to a pool of fresh blood on the ground. A local reported hearing between six and eight missiles strike.

The roofs of some homes had been torn off by the force of the blasts, showering debris onto the road below.

Since pulling back from its northern offensive to capture the capital of Kyiv, the Kremlin has scaled up attacks on Ukraine’s eastern flank, including Kharkiv just 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the Russian border.

On Friday, shelling of residential areas of the city killed 10 people. On Saturday, a strike claimed two more lives.