Chechen warlord says Mariupol will fall 'before lunchtime' as fears grow for civilians

21 April 2022, 06:15

Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov said Mariupol will "fall by lunchtime"
Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov said Mariupol will "fall by lunchtime". Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The head of Russia's republic of Chechnya said the besieged city of Mariupol will fall to Russian troops "before lunchtime".

Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov said: "Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation."

Intense and continued shelling of the sea port has reduced the city to ruins, with only a handful of Ukrainian soldiers left defending the city from the Azovstal steel plant.

About 1,000 civilians are trapped at a steel mill in Mariupol along with Ukrainian soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday evening.

"Behind the backs of our guys in Mariupol there are around a thousand civilians, including women and children," he said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel.

Mr Zelensky added that Russia has stonewalled Ukraine's attempts to negotiate a safe exit for them.

"We are open to different formats of exchange of our people for Russian people, Russian military that they have left behind," he said.

'The situation in Mariupol is really dire for Ukrainian forces'

Ukraine also has tried to get Russia to agree on a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the 120,000 people who Mr Zelensky said remain under siege in Mariupol.

The deputy commander of the Azov regiment, who was among the troops remaining in Mariupol, said the Russian military dropped heavy bombs on the steel plant and hit an "improvised" hospital.

Serhiy Taruta, the former governor of the Donetsk region and a Mariupol native, also reported the bombing of the hospital, where he said 300 people, including wounded troops and civilians with children, were sheltered.

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Serhei Volyna, the commanding officer of Ukraine's 36th Marine Brigade, said in a video from the Azovstal outpost that his troops were outnumbered "10 to one".

Adding: "This is our appeal to the world. It may be our last. We may have only a few days or hours left.

"The enemy units are dozens of times larger than ours, they have dominance in the air, in artillery, in ground troops, in equipment and in tanks."

Speaking after a visit from the President of the European Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed he was prepared to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe passage of civilians and Ukrainian troops from Mariupol.

Around 100,000 people remain in the besieged city, it is understood.

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Weeks ago, after the abortive Russian push to take Kyiv, the Kremlin declared that its main goal was the capture of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

A Russian victory in the Donbas would deprive Ukraine of the industrial assets concentrated there, including mines, metals plants and heavy-equipment factories.

Key to the campaign is the capture of Mariupol, which would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

It would also free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.

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Negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Ukraine is ready for a "special round of negotiations" with no conditions "to save our guys - military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded".

But Boris Johnson has indicated that he believes negotiations with Russia to end Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine are doomed to fail.

The Prime Minister on Wednesday compared dealing with the Russian president to negotiating with a "crocodile when it's got your leg in its jaws".

Mr Johnson, speaking on a flight to India, said Mr Putin may only seek to negotiate in earnest if he manages to seize a significant portion of Ukraine.

But he also warned that at that point, the Russian president may try to launch another assault on Kyiv.

He said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky had a "maximalist" approach to wanting to get back territory seized by Russia in the east of Ukraine.

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But he said he believes Mr Zelensky is open to negotiations on Crimea, which was annexed by Mr Putin's forces in 2014.

The Prime Minister told reporters: "It's for the Ukrainians to decide their future, nothing should be decided about Ukraine without Ukraine.

"But I think it's very hard to see how the Ukrainians can negotiate with Putin now, given his manifest lack of good faith and his strategy, which is evident, to try to engulf and capture as much of Ukraine as he can, and then perhaps have some sort of negotiation from a position of strength, or even to launch another assault on Kyiv.

"So I really don't see how the Ukrainians can easily sit down and come to some kind of accommodation.

"How can you negotiate with a crocodile when it's got your leg in its jaws?

"That's the difficulty the Ukrainians face."

Asked if talks are doomed, Mr Johnson replied: "I don't see how Putin can be taken to be a valid interlocutor now."