'Elimination' of Ukrainian troops in Mariupol to 'doom' talks: Zelensky
After Ukrainian soldiers surrendered to their Russian counterparts in the city of Mariupol, Kiev turns down an offer by Moscow to evacuate those soldiers, saying it would sever talks.
Ukraine will walk away from the negotiations table with Russia if Kiev's troops in Mariupol are eliminated, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday.
Some 1,160 Ukrainian soldiers, including 176 officers, of the 36th Marine Brigade, surrendered to the Russian forces in Mariupol earlier this week. Moscow's Ministry of Defense said it would allow all Ukrainian troops to withdraw through humanitarian corridors, pledging to spare Ukrainian nationalists who agree to law down their arms.
Kiev declined that offer, with President Zelensky saying Mariupol "is, perhaps, like ten Borodyankas, and I would like to say that elimination of our boys will put an end to all talks."
Mariupol is situated on the coast of the Donetsk People's Republic of the Donbass region. It has a population of 450,000, and Ukrainian troops took over it in 2014 following the Crimea crisis when Kiev sent its forces into the region.
Donbass has been subject to heavy bombardment from the Ukrainian side for nearly the past decade, but on March 7, a senior DPR military official said Russian and DPR forces surrounded the city and had begun cleaning it from Ukrainian troops, among whom are the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.
Mariupol has been a playground for Ukrainian provocations since the war broke out in the country on February 24. The Russian Defense Ministry had revealed that Ukrainian nationalists in Mariupol used about 150 civilians as human shields and opened fire against DPR fighters from behind the civilians' backs.
Azov battalion militants had also opened fire against civilians during evacuations from the city, resulting in the death of two people and the injury of four others, the DPR reported on March 7.
Russia declared a ceasefire on March 5 for civilians to evacuate from the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, the Russian Defense Ministry stated.
This was met with an attack by the extremist battalion, whose militants detonated an explosive device in the city of Mariupol, which left up to 200 people, including women and children, dead under the rubble.