As Mariupol hangs on, the extent of the horror not yet known

More than 1,300 people were believed to be sheltering in the theater, and 400 were estimated to have been in the art school.

Perched high on the Sea of Ozov, Mariupol is a major target. It has endured some of the most horrific sufferings of war. The fall of the southern port city would help Russia establish a land bridge to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

But no clear picture emerged of how close its capture might be.

” “Nobody can see from the outside whether it is really on the brink of being taken,” stated Keir Giles at Chatham House, an expert in Russia.

Moscow offered to allow Mariupol safe passage — one that would lead east to Russia and another to Ukraine — in exchange for its surrender Monday morning. The offer was rejected by Ukraine well in advance of the deadline.

Mariupol officials said on March 15 that at least 2,300 people had died in the siege, with some buried in mass graves. Although no official estimates have been made since, it is believed that the death toll could be much higher following six days of bombardment.

For those who remain, conditions have become brutal. Mariupol has been cut off its electricity, water, and food supply, and communication with the outside world is disrupted. Residents are now fighting for their survival.

“What is happening in Mariupol? It’s a huge war crime,” Josep Borrell, European Union chief of foreign policy said.

Mariupol had a prewar population of about 430,000. A quarter of those displaced were reported to have fled in the first days of war. Tens of thousands more escaped via a humanitarian corridor over the last week. The fighting has thwarted other attempts.

Those who made it to Mariupol described a destroyed city.

“There are no buildings there anymore,” said 77-year-old Maria Fiodorova, who crossed the border to Poland on Monday after five days of travel.

Olga Nikitina fled Mariupol to reach Lviv in western Ukraine. She arrived there Sunday and said that gunfire destroyed her windows. Her apartment was then below freezing.

“Battles were held on every street . She said that every house was a target. A long line of cars lined Bezimenne’s road, Ukraine. This was because Mariupol residents were seeking shelter in a camp that had been set up in Donetsk by Russian-backed separatists. An estimated 5,000 people from Mariupol have taken refuge in the camp. Numerous arrived with Russian-language signs that read “children”, in their cars.

A woman who gave her name as Yulia said she and her family sought shelter in Bezimenne after a bombing destroyed six houses behind her home.

“That’s why we got in the car, at our own risk, and left in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, dead bodies are lying around,” she said. “They don’t let us pass through everywhere — there are shootings.”

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urged Russia to abide by the Geneva Convention and allow humanitarian aid into the city.

In all, more than 8,000 people escaped to safer areas Monday through humanitarian corridors, including about 3,000 from Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

As Russia intensifies its effort to pound Mariupol into submission, its ground offensive in other parts of the country has become bogged down, slowed by lethal hit-and-run attacks by the Ukrainians. Analysts and Western officials say that the conflict has become a war of attrition. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are using artillery and air power to destroy cities.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment, said Russia had increased air sorties over the past two days, carrying out as many as 300 in the past 24 hours, and has fired more than 1,100 missiles into Ukraine since the invasion began. In a video address on Monday night,

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zeleskyy praised those who fought back against Russia.

“There is no need to organize resistance,” he said. “Resistance is part of Ukrainians’ soul On Monday, Russian forces fired stun guns at demonstrators chanting “Go Home!” Kherson was the first city in Russia to be taken hostage by Russia’s offensive early this month.

“We witnessed slaves firing at people free of charge, slaves to propaganda that had replaced their conscience,” the Ukrainian leader stated in his video address.

After being struck by eight shellings late Sunday night, a shopping centre in Kyiv’s densely populated Podil neighborhood was left a smoking wreckage. Every window of a nearby high-rise was broken by the attack.

Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov charged that Ukrainian forces had been using the shopping mall to store rockets and reload launchers. This claim was not independently confirmed.

Britain’s defense ministry said Ukrainian resistance has kept the bulk of Moscow’s forces more than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the center of Kyiv, but the capital “remains Russia’s primary military objective.”

Amid the continuing shelling, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced a curfew extending from Monday evening through Wednesday morning.

Ukrainian authorities also said Russia shelled a chemical plant outside the eastern city of Sumy, sending toxic ammonia leaking from a 50-ton tank, and hit a military training base in the Rivne region of western Ukraine with cruise missiles.

Konashenkov said 80 foreign and Ukrainian troops were killed in the Rivne attack. The Ukrainian side did not immediately provide any information on the casualties.

Authorities in Odesa Black Sea port claimed that Russian forces struck civilian homes during a Monday strike. According to the city council, no one was hurt.

Talks between Russia and Ukraine continued via video, but did not bridge the gap between them. The Kremlin demanded that Ukraine arm and declare itself neutral while Ukraine called for security guarantees and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. Russian’s Foreign Ministry stated that the U.S. is “on the brink of breaking relations” and cited “unacceptable statements” by Joe Biden regarding Putin. Biden called the Russian leader a war crime last week.

In another worrying development, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said radiation monitors around the decommissioned Chernobyl power plant, the site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, have stopped working. The agency stated that this problem and the inability of firefighters to maintain the radiation-tainted forests in areas where it is warm could lead to a “significant decline” in our ability to stop the spread of radiation to Ukraine and elsewhere.

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Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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