Ukraine rejects Russia's demand to surrender Mariupol in exchange for safe passage; Zelenskyy seeks help from Israel

Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Sunday, March 20. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Monday, March 21, as Russia's invasion continues.

Ukraine has rejected a Russian offer to allow two safe corridors out of the besieged city of Mariupol in exchange for Ukrainian fighters laying down their arms.

The Russian news agency TASS reported the offer, citing Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, and said residents of the southern port city were given until 5 a.m. Monday to respond.

Mizintsev didn't have to wait that long for an answer. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk rejected the idea outright.

“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms. We have already informed the Russian side about this,” she told the news outlet Ukrainian Pravda. “I wrote: 'Instead of wasting time on eight pages of letters, just open the corridor.'"

The pounding of Mariupol intensified Sunday and a top U.S. official expressed concern about the prospect of Russian-organized "concentration and prisoner camps" as Russia's bloody assault on Ukraine waded deeper into its fourth week.

The Mariupol city council accused the Russian military of bombing an art school where about 400 people had taken shelter. There was no immediate word on casualties at the school, but the city council said on social media the building was destroyed and people could remain under the rubble.

"Russia continues the genocide of the Ukrainian people and civilians of Mariupol," the post said. "Every war criminal will answer for his crimes against humanity, against the people of Mariupol."

The assault on Mariupol prompted a local police officer, in a video verified by the Associated Press, to appeal for help to President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The city council also claimed Russian soldiers have forced more than 1,000 city residents to be relocated to Russia.

"The occupiers illegally took people out of the Levoberezhny district and a shelter in the building of a sports club where more than a thousand people (mostly women and children) were hiding from constant bombing," the council said.

Ukrainian passports were taken from people who were given a piece of paper that "has no legal weight and is not recognized throughout the civilized world," the city council said. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday that she could not confirm those reports but expressed concern about the prospect of Russian-organized "concentration and prisoner camps."

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," said it is "unconscionable for Russia to force Ukrainian citizens into Russia and put them in what will basically be concentration and prisoner camps."

Latest developments

► An ammonia leak at a Sumy chemical plant has been contained, according to officials. The Sumykhimprom plant has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press.

► Emergency services say at least four people were killed by overnight shelling near a city center in Kyiv late Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

► President Joe Biden will host a call Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “discuss their coordinated responses to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” the White House said.

►The war has driven 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted. About 3.3 million have fled the country, and the rest have been "displaced inside the country," he said.

►President Joe Biden's planned trip to Europe this week does not include a stop in Ukraine, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted Sunday. The trip will include a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, and Biden will travel Friday to Poland.

►Management of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, said Sunday that 50 staff members who had been on the job since the plant was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24 have been rotated out and replaced. Officials feared their exhaustion could lead to an accident.

►Researchers tracking Russian equipment losses that were photographed or recorded on video say Russia has lost more than 1,500 tanks, trucks, mounted equipment and other heavy gear. Two out of three of those were captured or abandoned.

►Russia said it used a hypersonic missile Friday to strike a western Ukraine target, the Interfax news agency reported. Hypersonic missiles can move at up to five times the speed of sound. The Russian military said these missiles are capable of hitting targets from 1,200 miles, or roughly the distance from New York City to Kansas City.

Britain officials: ‘Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective’

Despite a ”continued lack of progress,” Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective, according to British military officials.

Heavy fighting continues north of the city in north-central Ukraine, but "the bulk" of Russian forces remain more than 15 miles from the center of the city, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update.

“Russian forces advancing on the city from the north-east have stalled,” the update reads. “Forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the north-west have been repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance."

The ministry says Russia will likely prioritize attempts to encircle the city in the coming weeks.

Bailey Schulz

New Zealand offers non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine

New Zealand plans to provide $5 million New Zealand dollars ($3.5 million) in non-lethal military assistance to support Ukraine. Funds will primarily go toward the NATO Trust Fund, which provides fuel, military rations, first aid kits and more to Ukraine.

“This is the first time New Zealand has provided direct funding to a third party organisation for non-lethal military assistance of this kind,” Prime Minister Jacinda said in a statement. "By contributing directly to the NATO Trust Fund, Ukrainian forces on the ground can benefit from the additional assistance immediately."

New Zealand will also make a variety of surplus defense equipment available to share with Ukraine, including body armor, helmets and vests.

Bailey Schulz

Ammonia leak at Sumy plant

An ammonia leak at a chemical plant in eastern Ukraine has potentially contaminated a 3-mile radius, according to Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy. He did not say what caused the leak.

The Sumykhimprom plant, located on the eastern outskirts of Sumy, has been regularly shelled by Russian troops in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press.

People are advised to leave the affected area or take shelter. Zhyvytskyy said the city of Novoselytsia was at risk, but Sumy was not under immediate threat due to the direction of the wind.

Bailey Schulz

Contributing: The Associated Press

Deputy National Security Adviser: US can broaden sanctions against Russia

Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh said Sunday that the U.S. has the ability to broaden its sanctions against Russia.

“(We can) take the measures, take the sanctions we've already applied, apply them in more targets. Apply them to more sectors,” Singh told CBS' 60 Minutes. “More banks, more sectors that we haven't touched.”

“It's mostly about oil and gas, but there are other sectors too,” he added. “I don't want to specify them, but I think Putin would know what those are.”

When asked what Putin would need to do to have sanctions lifted, Singh said "we're nowhere near that point."

“The first thing (Putin) has to do is to stop a reckless and barbaric attack on the civilians of Ukraine," he said. "That's not happening.”

Bailey Schulz

Zelenskyy: Russia's siege of Mariupol will be remembered for centuries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the siege of Mariupol would go down in history for what he described as war crimes committed by Russian troops and raised the specter of a "third world war" if negotiations with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin fail.

“To do this to a peaceful city, what the occupiers did, is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to his nation Sunday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia is killing citizens in Ukraine because its invasion has stalled, describing the tactic as "disgusting."

“We’ve seen deliberate targeting of cities and towns and civilians throughout the last several weeks,” Austin said on CBS' "Face The Nation."

The United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry assessment released Sunday mirrored Austin's concerns. The ministry said Russia has increased its indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties.

"Over the past week Russian forces have made limited progress in capturing these cities," the ministry tweeted Sunday. "It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses – at the cost of further civilian casualties."

Zelenskyy appealed to Putin to hold talks with him directly and said ongoing negotiations with Russia were “not simple or pleasant" but are necessary.

"I think that we have to use any format, any chance, in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin," Zelenskyy told CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

"But," he added, "if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.''

– David Jackson

As civilian casualties mount in Ukraine, Russia also taking major losses, including five generals

It's impossible to get precise figures for the civilian casualties in Ukraine, but even low estimates paint a grim picture. On the other hand, Russia is paying a hefty price as well, apparently including the loss of five generals.

At least 847 civilians, including 64 children, have been killed since Russia launched its offensive Feb. 24, the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reported Saturday. The agency acknowledged the actual figures are much higher. Agents also estimated the violence had left nearly 1,400 civilians injured, including 78 children. The Ukraine government estimates that 2,300 people have died in the ongoing siege of Mariupol alone.

Estimates of Russian deaths also vary widely. The Ukraine government puts the Russian death toll at more than 14,000. Even conservative figures are in the low thousands – a much faster pace than in previous Russian offensives, threatening support for the war among ordinary Russians. Russia had 64 deaths in five days of fighting during its 2008 war with Georgia. It lost about 15,000 in Afghanistan over 10 years, and more than 11,000 over years of fighting in Chechnya.

In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, multiple civilian buildings burn on Sunday amid Russian strikes on the Livoberezhnyi District of Mariupol, Ukraine.
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, multiple civilian buildings burn on Sunday amid Russian strikes on the Livoberezhnyi District of Mariupol, Ukraine.

Less than four weeks into its invasion, Russia appears to be down five generals. Ukraine said Saturday that Lt. General Andrei Mordvichev was killed by an airstrike north of Crimea, adding that he was the fifth Russian general killed in the war.

NATO summit to bolster support of Ukraine, show unity

The U.S. and NATO are trying to straddle the line between assisting Ukraine in its efforts to fight off the Russian invasion and getting directly involved.

At a special summit this week, NATO is expected to discuss enhancements of the military, humanitarian and financial support it members are providing Ukraine, officials said, while stiffening economic sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin. At the same time, the officials caution about the need to keep the conflict from increasing in scope.

In several news show interviews Sunday, U.S. and global security officials said potential topics of discussion at the summit include the prospect of deploying a peacekeeping force in Ukraine and the chances of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks. And they again warned Russia against using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on NBC's "Meet The Press" the summit will serve as a "platform to demonstrate our unity, our support to Ukraine, but also our readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies."

-- David Jackson

Zelenskyy asks Israel for help, cites similarities in Ukraine's struggle with what Jews endured

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy drew a parallel between what his besieged countrymen are enduring during the Russian invasion and the misery imposed on the Jewish people by the Nazis as he pleaded for help and a stronger stance against Russia's attack from Israel.

In a video address to the Israeli parliament Sunday, Zelenskyy urged the lawmakers to take action against Russia, accusing its President Vladimir Putin of trying to carry out a “final solution” against Ukraine. The term was used by Nazi Germany for its genocide of some 6 million Jews during World War II.

“Our people are now wandering in the world, seeking security as you once did,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, also pointed out a Russian missile struck Babi Yar, the spot in Kyiv where over 30,000 Jews were slaughtered in 1941 by the Nazis and now serves as Ukraine’s main Holocaust memorial. “You know what this place means, where the victims of the Holocaust are buried,” he said.

Rep. Liz Cheney: US must stop telling Russia 'what we won't do'

The United States and NATO must stop publicizing their unwillingness to get too involved in the Ukraine war, Rep. Liz Cheney said Sunday. The West must make it clear that all options are being considered – and that use of chemical weapons could alter our calculation. She said "telling the Russians what we won't do" is not helpful, adding that it's very important that Russian President Vladimir Putin not "reap any rewards" for his aggression.

"Putin’s actions so far have demonstrated first of all, that the Russian military is nowhere near as capable as the world perhaps thought it was," Cheney said. "Probably not as capable as Putin thought it was."

Pope denounces 'cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity' of war

Pope Francis denounced Russia’s “repugnant war” against Ukraine as “cruel and sacrilegious inhumanity.” In some of his strongest words yet since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, Francis on Sunday told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square that every day brings more atrocities in what is a “senseless massacre.”

“There is no justification for this,” Francis said, in an apparent reference to Russia, which sought to justify its invasion as vital for its own defense. But Francis again stopped short of naming Russia as the aggressor. Pontiffs typically have decried wars and their devastating toll on civilians without citing warmongers by name.

Francis also called on “all actors in the international community” to work toward ending the war. “Again this week, missiles, bombs, rained down on the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,” the pope said. His thoughts, he said, went to the millions who flee. “And I feel great pain for those who don’t even have the chance to escape,’’ Francis added.

Russia regrouping, Ukraine military says

Russian forces focused on sorting out logistics and regrouping on Saturday rather than undertaking offensive operations, Ukraine military officials reported in a Sunday morning update. The military maneuvers, or lack thereof, have experts around the world increasingly concerned that a stalemate could be on the horizon, with "enormous casualties" possible as troops focus on civilian targets.

A report from the Institute for the Study of War concluded that Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of the war, but the report also highlighted activity of Russian forces, which have shown signs of "digging in around the periphery of Kyiv and elsewhere."

"Stalemate is not armistice or cease-fire. It is a condition in war in which each side conducts offensive operations that do not fundamentally alter the situation. Those operations can be very damaging and cause enormous casualties," Frederick W. Kagan, George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko wrote in an assessment published Saturday.

The findings echo what experts told USA TODAY last week. A “quagmire is the realistic 'goal,’” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Russia’s number of dead and wounded in Ukraine is nearing the 10% benchmark of diminished combat effectiveness, said Dmitry Gorenburg, a researcher on Russia’s security at the Virginia-based CNA think tank. The reported battlefield deaths of four Russian generals – out of an estimated 20 in the fight – signal impaired command, he said. On Saturday, Ukraine said it had killed a fifth Russian general.

Russians will need massive troop numbers to hold cities they capture

When it comes to the grinding job of capturing and holding cities, conventional military metrics suggest Russia needs a 5-to-1 advantage in urban fighting, analysts say. The formula for ruling a restive territory in the face of armed opposition is 20 fighters for every 1,000 people – or 800,000 Russian troops for Ukraine’s more than 40 million people, said Michael Clarke, former head of the British-based Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank.

That’s almost as many as Russia’s entire active-duty military of 900,000, and it means controlling substantial Ukrainian territory long term could take more resources than Russia can commit, he said.

“Unless the Russians intend to be completely genocidal – they could flatten all the major cities, and Ukrainians will rise up against Russian occupation – there will be just constant guerrilla war,” Clarke said.

Ukrainian refugees flee to Moldova amid harrowing Russian attacks

Of more than 3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, about two-thirds have gone to Poland. But an estimated 350,000 have entered Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries. Most are women and children, as most men of fighting age have been ordered to stay behind to defend their country.

Now, government workers and aid groups are trying to help, conducting a hurried symphony across multiple languages, from Russian and Romanian, which is spoken in Moldova, to French and English. They're fingerprinting and photographing refugees, double-checking documents and providing emergency cash to the most needy.

The Ukrainian refugees in Moldova include Kristina Paleshev, whose five kids have been waking up at night startled by any loud noises, frightened that they are again under attack.

"We want to go back. I love my country and my town," Paleshev, 38, said, as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I’m crying because our people are being killed.”

– Trevor Hughes

Zelenskyy restricts political parties tied to Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered the suspension of activities of 11 political parties with links to Russia. The largest of them is the Opposition Platform for Life, which has 44 out of 450 seats in the country’s parliament. The party is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.

Also on the list is the Nashi (Ours) party led by Yevheniy Murayev. Before the Russian invasion, British authorities warned that Russia wanted to install Murayev as the leader of Ukraine.

Speaking in a video address early Sunday, Zelenskyy said “given a large-scale war unleashed by the Russian Federation and links between it and some political structures, the activities of a number of political parties is suspended for the period of the martial law.” He added that “activities by politicians aimed at discord and collaboration will not succeed.”

Zelenskyy’s announcement follows the introduction of the martial law that envisages a ban on parties associated with Russia.

20 babies from surrogate moms in bomb shelter

In peacetime, Ukraine has a thriving surrogate industry, one of the few countries where foreigners can contract women to carry their pregnancies. Now at least 20 of those babies are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter in Ukraine’s capital, waiting for parents to travel into the war zone to pick them up.

They’re well cared for at the moment. Surrogacy center nurses are stranded with them, because constant shelling makes it too dangerous for them to go home. Russian troops are trying to encircle Kyiv. As Ukrainian defenders hold them off for now, the threat comes from the air.

Nurse Lyudmilla Yashchenko says they’re staying in the bomb shelter to save their lives, and the lives of the babies, some of whom are just days old. They have enough food and baby supplies for now, and can only hope and wait for the newborns to be picked up, and the war to end.

►Ukrainian refugees: Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine. Where are they going?

Contributing: The Associated Press

More coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: No Mariupol surrender; Zelenskyy calls on Israel