Russia has urged Ukrainian troops in the port city of Mariupol to lay down their weapons and surrender in exchange for a safe exit, but officials in Kyiv immediately rejected the offer as impossible.

Russian General Mikhail Mizantsev said on Sunday that Moscow will allow two corridors from the coastal city eastward to Russia and westward to the rest of Ukraine.

He gave Mariupol until 5am (02:00GMT) on Monday to respond to the proposal, saying the besieged city “has already experienced a terrible humanitarian catastrophe”, Russia and Fighting between Ukrainian troops has left residents with no food, water or electricity.

“Everyone who lays down their arms can leave Mariupol in safety,” he said, without specifying what Russia would do if the offer was rejected.

Speaking to authorities in Mariupol on the messaging app Telegram, the Russian Defense Ministry said the officials “now have the right to make a historic choice” and warned that if they supported so-called “criminals” they could face a military court.

People are rescued from a damaged children’s hospital building following the Russian airstrike on Mariupol, Ukraine, in this video, taken from a handout clip taken and released by the Ukrainian National Police on March 9, 2022 [National Police of Ukraine / AFP]
    A photo shows a residential building damaged during the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on March 18, 2022.
A photo shows damage to a residential building during the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 18, 2022 [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

But Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk rejected the request.

“There is no question of surrendering, laying down arms. We have informed the Russian side,” she told news outlet Pravda Ukraine.

“I wrote: ‘Rather than wasting time on an eight-page letter, open the hallway.'”

In a Telegram video, Vereshchuk added that the Russians “continue to behave like terrorists.”

“They said they agreed to be in the humanitarian corridor and shelled the evacuation site in the morning,” she said.

“Every house becomes a target”

The city of Mariupol, with a population of 400,000, has suffered the heaviest bombing since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. At least 2,300 people were killed, some buried in mass graves, city officials said.

The mayor of Mariupol, Piotr Andryushchenko, also rejected Russia’s demand to surrender, according to Ukraine’s Interfax news agency, saying in a Facebook post that he didn’t need to wait until morning to respond and curse Russians.

Moscow called for surrender hours after Ukrainian authorities said the Russian military had bombed an art school in Mariupol that sheltered hundreds of people. There is no word on casualties from the school attack.

About 400 civilians were hit by a Russian bomb as they took refuge in an art school in the besieged Azov port city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address.

“They were under the rubble and we don’t know how many survived,” he said. “But we know we’re going to shoot down the pilot who dropped the bomb, just like we’ve shot down about 100 other mass murderers of this type.”

The raid on the art school is the second in less than a week that officials have reported raids on public buildings where Mariupol residents have taken refuge.

On Wednesday, a bomb struck the theater where more than 1,000 people are believed to have taken shelter.

Ukrainian officials have not provided an update on the theater search since Friday, when they said at least 130 people had been rescued and another 1,300 people were trapped in the rubble.

Fighting in the city continued on Sunday, officials said, with evacuees who managed to reach the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, some 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) away, tearfully describing “fighting on every street.”

“Every house became a target,” said Olga Nikitina, who was hugged by her brother as she got out of the car in Lviv. “The gunshots blew the windows. The temperature in the apartment was below zero.”

Marina Gala, who narrowly escaped with her 13-year-old son, said she was crowded with about 250 people in the basement of a cultural center without water, electricity or gas for three weeks.

“We left [home] Because the shell hit the house across the road. There is no roof. There were injuries,” Gala said, adding that her mother, father and grandparents stayed “without even knowing we were gone”.

fight block by block

The Greek consul general in Mariupol, the last EU diplomat to evacuate the city, said Greece was joining the ranks of places known for war.

“What I saw, I hope no one can see,” Manolis Andryrakis said upon arriving in the Greek capital, Athens.

The fall of Mariupol would allow Russian troops in southern and eastern Ukraine to be linked. In recent days, Russian troops have entered Mariupol.

But Western military analysts say even if the besieged city is captured, the troops there may be too depleted to help Russia make breakthroughs on other fronts.

“The block-by-block fighting in Mariupol itself is draining the Russian military’s time, initiative and combat effectiveness,” the Washington-based Institute for War Institute said in a briefing.

The think tank bluntly concluded that Russia had failed in its initial efforts to quickly seize the capital, Kyiv, and other major cities, preventing its invasion and potentially leading to a bloody stalemate.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also said Ukrainian resistance meant Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “ground forces were basically at a standstill.”

“It made him move his troops to the loggers,” Austin told CBS Television Sunday.