Witnesses say Mariupol almost entirely destroyed

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Ukrainian officials have defiantly rejected a Russian demand that their forces in Mariupol lay down arms and raise white flags in exchange for safe passage. Russian troops have surrounded and are barraging the strategic southern port city.

Ukrainian officials say the Russian military hit an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of Mariupol in return for the capitulation of its defenders.

Witnesses fleeing Mariupol say they are leaving behind a city that has been almost entirely destroyed by Russian bombardment and heavy fighting.

Maria Fiodorova crossed the border from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland, on Monday after an arduous, five-day journey. The 77-year-old woman told The Associated Press that the city is almost 90 percent destroyed, with every building razed to the ground.

Video captured by The Associated Press shows residents pushing carts and carrying bags of food and supplies along debris-ridden streets and passages. The siege has caused shortages of food, water and energy supplies, according to city officials who say at least 2,300 civilians have been killed thus far in Mariupol.

Residents have fled Mariupol not knowing what, if anything, will be left — if and when they return.

Another Ukrainian woman who made it to the Polish border said she left behind a sister in Mariupol who reported that Russian soldiers there are not allowing anyone to leave.

“She told me that they have already switched to a Russian time zone, that there are lots of Russian soldiers walking around the city. Civilians cannot leave,” Yulia Bondarieva, who fled Kharkiv for Medyka, told the AP. She feared that her sister and family would soon run out of food and water.

Elsewhere, a long line of vehicles lined a road in Bezimenne, Ukraine, as residents from Mariupol sought shelter at a temporary camp set up by the rebel Donetsk government.

Many of the cars had pieces of white cloth tied to door handles and carried homemade signs saying “children” in Russian.

Donetsk government officials said about 5,000 Mariupol residents have taken refuge at the camp since the start of the war.

Mariupol authorities have said several thousand people were taken to Russia against their will and that only about 10% of the city’s former population of 430,000 has managed to flee.

A woman named Yulia told The Associated Press that she and her family sought shelter in Bezimenne in eastern Ukraine after a bombing destroyed six houses behind her home.

“That’s why we got in the car, at our own risk, and left in 15 minutes because everything is destroyed there, dead bodies are lying around,” she said.

Heavy fighting north of Kyiv

Britain’s defense ministry says heavy fighting is continuing north of Kyiv as Russian forces press on with a stalled effort to encircle Ukraine’s capital city.

In an update Monday on social media, the ministry said Russian forces advancing on the city from the northeast have stalled, and troops advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the northwest have been pushed back by fierce Ukrainian resistance. It said the bulk of Russian forces were more than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the city center.

U.K. officials said that “despite the continued lack of progress, Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective and they are likely to prioritise attempting to encircle the city over the coming weeks.”

Regional officials said Monday that a cluster of villages on Kyiv’s northwest edge is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe.

Bucha and other nearby villages have been all but cut off by Russian forces. Associated Press journalists who were in the area a week ago saw bodies in a public park in the town of Irpin, including a woman with a mortal wound to her head. Basement shelters beneath apartment buildings were filled, and not a day goes by without smoke rising from the area.

At a crematorium on Sunday in Kyiv, the bodies of three civilians from the area were delivered in the back of a van.

Homes struck in Odesa

Authorities in Odesa have accused Russian forces of damaging civilian houses in a strike on the Black Sea port city on Monday.

The city council said no one was killed in the strike and that emergency services quickly extinguished a fire. Mayor Hennady Trukhanov visited the site and said “we will not leave Odesa and we will fight for our city.”

Odesa is in southwestern Ukraine and has largely avoided the fighting so far, though Russia has ships operating off the Black Sea coast.

Chemical plant struck in Sumy

Ukraine’s prosecutor general said a Russian shell struck a chemical plant outside the city of Sumy a little after 3 a.m. Monday, causing a leak in a 50-ton tank of ammonia that took hours to contain.

Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed the leak was a “planned provocation” by Ukrainian forces to falsely accuse Russia of a chemical attack.

Konashenkov also said an overnight cruise missile strike hit a Ukrainian military training center in the Rivne region. He said 80 foreign and Ukrainian troops were killed.

Vitaliy Koval, the head of the Rivne regional military administration, confirmed a twin Russian missile strike on a training center there early Monday but offered no details about injuries or deaths.

Radiation monitors around Chernobyl stop working

Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency says the radiation monitors around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world’s worst meltdown in 1986, have stopped working.

In a statement Monday, the agency also said there are no longer firefighters available in the region to protect forests tainted by decades of radioactivity as the weather warms. The plant was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24.

According to Monday’s statement, the combination of risks could mean a “significant deterioration” of the ability to control the spread of radiation not just in Ukraine but beyond the country’s borders in weeks and months to come.

Management of the Chernobyl plant said Sunday that 50 staff members who had been working nonstop since the Russian takeover have been rotated out and replaced.