Ukrainian troops in Mariupol have been issued a horrific ultimatum by Russia's defence ministry, being told to “surrender at dawn or die”.
On Saturday (local time) Russian forces claimed to have cleared urban areas of Mariupol of Ukrainian troops, saying only a few fighters remained in the Azovstal steelworks.
Ukrainian forces are still fighting in the southern port city of Mariupol — which Russian troops first invaded on February 24.
If Mariupol falls to Russia, it will be the first major Ukrainian city seized by Russia's forces.
The remaining Ukrainian defenders in the Azovstal plant were told leave between 6am and 1pm Moscow time — without weapons or ammunition — as detailed in the terms proposed by Russia on Saturday.
"Taking into account the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal metallurgical plant, as well as being guided by purely humane principles," the defence ministry said in a statement.
"The Russian Armed Forces offer the militants of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries from 06:00 (Moscow time) on April 17, 2022, to stop any hostilities and lay down their arms.
"All who lay down their arms are guaranteed that their lives will be spared."
Zelenskey threatens to withdraw from peace negotiations
On Saturday, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskey accused Russia of "deliberately trying to destroy everyone" in Mariupol and said his government was in touch with the defenders.
He did not address Moscow's claim that Ukrainian forces were no longer in urban districts.
"I want to be heard correctly right now; there has not been a single day since the beginning of the blockade of Mariupol that we have not been seeking a solution — military or diplomatic," Mr Zelenskiy said.
The Ukrainian president threatened to withdraw from ongoing peace negotiations if the Ukrainian fighters trapped in Mariupol are killed by the Russian forces.
"What they are doing right now ... could put a stop to any form of negotiation," he told Ukrainska Pravda news website.
Mariupol has been a target of Russia since the start of the war because of its location on the coast of the Azov Sea.
If Mariupol was captured it would give Russia an option to build a land bridge to Crimea and control the entire north shore of the Sea of Azov.
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