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In latest ultimatum, Russia urges Ukrainian troops to lay down arms ‘immediately’

Russian defense ministry calls on Kyiv ‘to show reason’ and surrender, as Moscow ramps up plans to ‘liberate’ eastern Ukraine; Kremlin refuses to shed light on sunken flagship

Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia on Tuesday called on Ukrainian forces to “immediately” lay down arms and issued a new ultimatum for the defenders of the besieged port city of Mariupol to give up.

The Russian defense ministry’s warning came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced late on Monday the start of a new offensive by Moscow that is focused on the east of the former Soviet state.

“We once again call on the Kyiv authorities to show reason and give the corresponding orders to fighters to cease their senseless resistance,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.

“But, understanding that they will not get such instructions and orders from the Kyiv authorities, we call on [the fighters] to voluntarily take this decision and to lay down their arms.”

The statement made no direct mention of a new ground offensive in eastern Ukraine.

But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed that his forces were “gradually implementing our plan to liberate” eastern Ukraine.

Russian soldiers walk along a street in Mariupol, on April 12, 2022. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP)

“We are taking measures to restore peaceful life,” he said in a televised meeting with Russian military commanders.

Some of the heaviest fighting of the Russian campaign has focused around the strategic Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol.

The port offers a land bridge between Moscow-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine and the Kremlin-annexed peninsula of Crimea.

The Russian defense ministry said Ukrainian forces still holed up inside the devastated city’s main metallurgical plant were facing a “catastrophic situation.”

“The Russian armed forces once again offer the nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries a chance to stop all military activity and to lay down their arms, starting at noon,” the Russian ministry said.

“Everyone who lays down their arms will be guaranteed survival.”

A Ukrainian national flag, military helmet and medical documents are seen on a table at a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

But Donetsk rebel commander Eduard Basurin said separatist “shock troops” had already launched an assault on the plant.

“The Russian Federation is really helping us with this, providing aerial and artillery support,” Russian news agencies quoted Basurin as saying.

Basurin also rejected the idea that civilians may still be trapped in the industrial zone.

“There are no civilians there now,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin refused on Tuesday to reveal any details about casualties suffered from the sinking of Russia’s guided-missile cruiser Moskva, as parents called for the truth about their missing children.

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet sank last week after an explosion and fire that Ukraine said was caused by a successful missile strike and Russia said was the result of exploding munitions.

Russian authorities said the crew had been evacuated from the warship — which is able to carry up to 680 sailors — but gave no other details.

After the Moskva sank, parents and other family members of sailors who served aboard — including conscripts — took to social media, saying their children had gone missing and that they needed answers.

Asked to comment on the situation, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Tuesday the Kremlin was not at liberty to reveal any details.

“All communication is only through the defense ministry,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “All information regarding this is issued by the defense ministry and here we are not authorized to release anything.”

Several families have said on social media or in statements to independent Russian or foreign press that they cannot find their children who were serving on the Moskva.

Dmitry Shkrebets said that his conscript son Yegor was a cook on the ship and was now listed as missing in action.

“A conscript who was not supposed to take part in hostilities is listed as missing,” he said in a post on VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network.

He said that after he tried to learn more about the tragedy, the commander of the cruiser and his deputy had gone incommunicado.

A Russian Orthodox Church priest and a Russian Navy veteran attend a memorial event near the Russian Navy 300th Birthday Monument in Artillery Bay for the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet Missile Cruiser “Moskva” in Sevastopol, Crimea, on April 15, 2022. The Russian Defense Ministry said the vessel sank in a storm while being towed to a port. (AP Photo)

On Monday, Shkrebets said that he had been in touch with three more families whose conscripted sons had also gone missing after the sinking.

“We need written answers to our questions about the location of our children,” Shkrebets said.

Meduza, an independent Russian-language news website, citing a source close to the Black Sea command, said 37 members of the Moskva’s crew had died.

Around 100 men were wounded while the precise number of missing is unknown, the publication said.

Some 500 people were on board when the Moskva was hit, Meduza said, citing the source.

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