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Ukraine is offering to free Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the evacuation of seriously injured fighters trapped in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday.

“The government is working on different options. None of them are perfect. But we are not looking for an ideal option, but an option that works,” Ms. Vereshchuk said in a social media post.

The first step, Ms. Vereshchuk said, would be for Russian forces to allow the withdrawal of seriously injured fighters from Azovstal via a humanitarian corridor. She offered the return of Russian prisoners of war in return.

No agreement has been reached and negotiations are ongoing, she said, adding that Russia had rejected calls to allow the extraction of soldiers remaining in Azovstal.

“We can’t just leave. We can only be evacuated,” Lt. Ilia Samoilenko of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment recently told an online press conference from Azovstal. “We are basically dead men. Most of us know this.

Russian forces destroyed much of the city of Mariupol. Azov’s deputy commander, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, said more than 25,000 civilians were killed in the Russian assault. The last remaining inhabitants and fighters found themselves trapped in the sprawling industrial complex.

All women, children and the elderly were evacuated from Azovstal, Ms Vereshchuk said on Saturday, after an agreement with United Nations support facilitated a series of humanitarian convoys out of Mariupol.

Lt. Samoilenko told Sky News on Tuesday that to his knowledge there were no longer any civilians at the factory.

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