Ukraine ignores Russian ultimatum to surrender Sievierodonetsk | Ukraine

Ukraine has ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender the embattled eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, as fears grow over the hundreds of civilians trapped in the city’s Azot chemical factory.

Russia ordered Ukrainian forces a day earlier to stop “senseless resistance and lay down arms” from Wednesday morning, as Moscow controls 80% of Sievierodonetsk, a city that has become a focal point of Russia’s advances in the east of the country.

Moscow on Wednesday also accused Ukraine of disrupting plans to open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the area. The evacuation planned to bring civilians from the Azot plant to Svatove, a city north of Sievierodonetsk controlled by pro-Russian forces, and Ukraine had not publicly commented on Moscow’s proposal.

More than 500 civilians, including 40 children, are trapped inside the Azot factory. Weeks of Russia’s relentless bombardment of Sievierodonetsk, including its industrial area, have reduced much of the city to rubble. The shelling of the Azot plant echoes the earlier bloody siege of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of fighters and civilians took shelter from Russian shelling.

Saviano Abreu, a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian affairs office, described the situation in Azot as a “huge concern”. “The lack of water and sanitation is a big concern. It’s a huge concern for us because people cannot survive for long without water,” he told the BBC.

Map: location of Azot chemical plant

In its latest intelligence briefing, Britain’s defense ministry said elements of Ukraine’s armed forces as well as several hundred civilians were sheltering in underground bunkers in the Azot plant. Ukraine has not publicly acknowledged that members of its armed forces were sheltering there, and it was not possible to verify the claim.

Russia continues to make gains in Sievierodonetsk, a key city in Russia’s push for full control of the eastern Luhansk region. The mayor of Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandr Stryuk, told Ukrainian television on Wednesday afternoon that Russian forces were trying to “push towards the city centre”.

“This is an ongoing situation with partial successes and tactical retreats,” Stryuk said.

Meanwhile, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, wrote on Facebook that 75 people had been evacuated from Sievierodonetsk, despite the three bridges that led out of the city being destroyed.

“The evacuation is extremely difficult because the shelling does not subsidize. Police officers and volunteers were able to successfully evacuate 75 people, and all of them are safe,” he said. “We will not stop, as long as there is such an opportunity to evacuate people.”

Off the battlefield, Ukraine continued its pursuit of more western weapons as Nato defense ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss the issue. “Brussels, we are waiting for a decision,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, wrote on Twitter.

Anna Malyar, the country’s deputy defense minister, said Ukraine had received just 10% of the weapons it had requested from the west. “No matter how hard Ukraine tries, no matter how professional our army is, without the help of western partners we will not be able to win this war,” she said.

In Russia, where Putin is expected to make a major speech on Friday during the annual St Petersburg international economic forum, a rare voice of public anti-war dissent emerged from Igor Denisov, the former captain of the country’s football team.

“These events are catastrophic. It’s horrible. I am not sure if I will be jailed or killed for this, but I am saying it as it is,” Denisov said in an interview with a sports journalist. Denisov’s statements made him the most senior Russian former or current athlete who was still in Moscow to have spoken out against the war.

His comments came as Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and a close Putin ally, further escalated his rhetoric against Ukraine, writing on his Telegram channel: “Who said Ukraine is even going to exist on the world map in two years?”

It was the latest in a string of statements by senior Russian officials that questioned Ukraine’s statehood. A day earlier, Russia’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, called on Russia to “finish off” Ukraine “once and for all”.

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