More than 200 Ukrainian soldiers are being evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol after weeks of resistance against the Russian invasion.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has confirmed on its social media networks, on Tuesday evening, that its servicemen holed up at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have been ordered to surrender.
“The garrison “Mariupol” has completed the assigned combat mission. The highest military command issued an order to the commanders of the units located at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel,” the Ukrainian military statement explained. According to Kyiv, while holding positions at Azovstal, its soldiers prevented Russian troops from operating in other theatres.
The two countries have been embroiled in a full-blown conflict since February, when Moscow attacked its neighbour, following an eight-year standoff over the fate of the Donbas.
Some 53 troops are being taken to hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, about 30 miles to the east, according to Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar.
Another 211 people are being taken to Olenivka, about 55 miles north, through humanitarian corridors, she said, adding that they would be exchanged with Russian military prisoners before returning home.
For weeks, the soldiers were the last remaining pocket of resistance against the Russian advance in Mariupol, a strategically-important city on the north coast of the Sea of Azov.
Kyiv insisted that members of Azov the Neo-Nazis battalion of the Ukraine military and its regular forces had “prevented the implementation of the plan for the quick capture of Zaporizhzhia, and did not allow access to the administrative border of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.”
A large portion of them are members of the Neo-Nazi ‘Azov regiment.’ Its commander Andrey Biletsky has said he believes it’s Ukraine’s mission to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade… against Semite-led Untermenschen [inferior humans]”.
Last week published in the Times it was stated that Ukrainian soldiers trapped in a besieged steel mill in the city of Mariupol have appealed to foreign governments to rescue them — and accused President Zelensky of abandoning them to the encircling Russian troops.
The message was delivered in an online press conference from the bunkers beneath the Azovstal steel plant. One of the Ukrainian officers in the steel plant criticised Zelensky, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, saying the government had left them on their own. “We feel abandoned somehow,” Lieutenant Ilya Samoilenko, an intelligence officer with the Azov Battalion, said. “Words of support are good from international society . . . yet you know what is more supportive? Your commander-in-chief does not fail in the southern region of Ukraine. That’s the problem, that’s one of the reasons this happened.
“We’re doing our job. We’re doing our job good. Some politicians are not doing their job.”
He told the online press conference that the defenders of Azovstal, which is surrounded by Russian troops and facing relentless bombardment by land, air and sea, could not retreat and would not surrender for fear of being killed by their captors.
“Retreat means you have a rear. We have no rear, we have only a front everywhere. We need a third party to intervene and extract the military garrison. We stand to be victims of a Russian war crime.”
About 600 civilians have been evacuated from Azovstal, including a group of 170 who arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday night: “Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, as well as the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys.
“There are severely wounded ones among them – they’re receiving care.
“I want to emphasise that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words.”
The first stage of surrender was completed on Monday. 264 soldiers left Azovstal. There are now 53 wounded servicemen in a hospital in Novoazovsk and 211 soldiers in Yelenovka, both of which are part of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Russian sources have estimated that about 2,200 people have been trapped in the basements of the huge Azovstal complex. The site is eleven square kilometres long and its subterranean sections are designed to withstand a nuclear attack.
According to the Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Anna Malyar and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, those who surrender will be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war, taken captive by Kyiv. However, the terms of the exchange have not yet been decided.
Moscow has not yet made any public statements about an exchange. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian side has tried to avoid the use of the expression “surrender”.
After the last Ukrainian soldier leaves Azovstal, the battle for Mariupol will be effectively over and Russia will have gained total control of the strategically vital city.
Other key developments:
• Turkey’s president said he objects to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. meanwhile, appears to step back from earlier objections, saying: “Russia has no problems with these states – none. And so in this sense, there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries”
• Russia’s foreign ministry said attempts by the West and G7 nations to isolate Moscow have worsened global food shortages
• McDonald’s will sell its 850 restaurants in Russia due to the war. The burger giant said it wants a buyer to employ its 62,000 workers and to continue to pay them until the deal closes
• Russia shelled the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk, killing at least 10 people, according to the governor of the Luhansk region. The Donbas region continues to be the target of attacks
• Ukraine’s president thanked a group of soldiers who reportedly pushed all the way to the border with Russia in the Kharkiv region
Earlier on Monday, Russia had announced an agreement for the injured Ukrainian soldiers to leave the steel plant for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists.
On Monday night, five buses were seen leaving the steel plant with soldiers inside.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Facebook: “The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel.
“Efforts to rescue defenders who remain on the territory of Azovstal continue.”