Efforts were being made on Tuesday to rescue the last defenders inside the Azovstal steel plant in the devastated port city of Mariupol after Ukrainian officials said the fighters “did their mission” and were unable to liberate the plant by military means.
The Ukrainian military has avoided using the word “surrender” to describe efforts to withdraw the steel plant to save as many lives as possible. Officials plan to continue efforts to rescue an undisclosed number of fighters who remain. It is unclear whether soldiers evacuated to Russian-held areas will be considered prisoners of war.
Regiment stubbornly defending a steel mill for UkraineThe port city of Mariupol declared the mission complete on Monday after more than 260 fighters, including some seriously wounded, were evacuated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the evacuation to separatist-held territory was to save the lives of fighters who had been attacked by Russia for weeks in the labyrinthine underpasses beneath the sprawling Azov Starr steel plant. He said the “severely wounded” were receiving medical attention.
“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle,” he said. An unknown number of fighters stayed behind to await other rescue efforts.
Defenders of steel mills withdraw as Moscow suffers another diplomatic setback in war with Ukraine,In deciding to seek to join NATO. Ukraine reportedly made a symbolic gain when Ukrainian troops pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.
Still, Russian troops have struck targets in the Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, and the death toll has continued to climb in the thousands, as the war enters its 12th week on Wednesday.
Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Malial said 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azov Starr factory to a hospital in Novayazovsk, east of Mariupol. Another 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through humanitarian corridors.
She said there would be an exchange for them to return home. Officials also plan to continue efforts to rescue the fighters who remained inside.
“The work of bringing these people home continues, and it takes sophistication and time,” Zelensky said.
Before evacuations from the steel plant began on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a deal to allow the wounded to leave the plant for treatment in towns controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
Several buses, accompanied by Russian military vehicles, left the mill after night fell on Monday. Maliar later confirmed the evacuation had taken place.
“Thanks to Mariupol’s defenders, Ukraine has been given crucial time to form reserves and restructure forces and get help from partners,” she said. “And they’ve done everything. But it’s impossible to lift the blockade of Azostar by military means.”
The withdrawal marked the end of the regiment’s mission, the commander of the Azov regiment, who led the defense of the factory, said in a pre-recorded video message released on Monday.
“There are no plans and operations that are absolutely safe during a war,” Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko said, adding that all risks were taken into account and that part of the plan included “saving the lives of as many people as possible.”
Elsewhere in the Donbass, the eastern city of Sivir Donetsk came under heavy shelling, killing at least 10 people, Luhansk Oblast Governor Sheryl Heyday said. In the Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in the shelling.
Earlier on Tuesday, the western Ukrainian city of Lviv was rocked by a loud explosion. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions accompanied by a distant roar, with the smell of burning evident after a while. An Associated Press team in Lviv said the sky west of the city was lit with an orange glow.
But as Russian troops retreated from the surroundings, so did Ukrainian troops.In Kharkiv the last few days. Zelensky thanked the soldiers who allegedly pushed them all the way to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.
The video shows Ukrainian soldiers holding a pole that resembles Ukraine’s blue-and-yellow-striped border sign. Then they put it on the ground, and a dozen soldiers posed beside it, one of whom had a bullet belt slung over his shoulder.
“I thank you very much, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on behalf of me and my family,” Zelensky said in a video message. “I am so grateful to all fighters like you.”
The Ukrainian border service said the video showed the soldiers coming from the border in the “Kharkov region”, but declined to elaborate for security reasons. The exact location could not be immediately verified.
The Ukrainian border guards said they also blocked an attempt by Russia to send sabotage and reconnaissance forces into the Sumy region, about 90 miles northwest of Kharkiv.
Russia has been plagued by setbacks in the war, most notably its early failure to capture the capital, Kyiv. Much of the fighting has moved to the Donbass, but it has also turned into an uphill battle, with both sides fighting village by village.
Howitzers from the U.S. and other countries helped Kyiv prevent or gain control of Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. Discussing the U.S. military assessment, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukraine had pushed Russian troops within half a mile to 2.5 miles of the Russian border, but could not confirm whether it was all the way to the border.
Russian long-range strikes also appear to have targeted a Ukrainian military training center in Javoriv, near the Polish border, the official said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to join NATO follows a similar decision by neighboring Finland, a historic shift for generations of non-aligned nations.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her compatriots.
“Russia has indicated that if we join NATO, it will take countermeasures,” she said. “We cannot rule out that Sweden will face, for example, disinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”
But NATO member Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up his opposition to their joining. He accused the countries of failing to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups deemed terrorists by Ankara, and imposed military sanctions on Turkey.
Swedish and Finnish officials, who are expected to visit Turkey next week, shouldn’t bother to come if they intend to persuade Turkey to drop its opposition, he said.
“How can we trust them?” Erdogan asked at a joint news conference with the visiting Algerian president.
All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had “no problem” when Sweden or Finland applied to join NATO, but that “of course the expansion of military infrastructure into the territory will elicit our reaction.”
Putin launched the February 24 invasion, which he said was an attempt to curb NATO’s expansion, but the strategy backfired. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the process of joining the two sides could be quick.
Europe is also working to stifle the funding of the Kremlin war by reducing the billions it spends on Russian energy imports. The proposed EU embargo faces opposition from some countries that rely on Russian imports, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.