Siege of Mariupol ends as wounded soldiers are taken to Russia

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More than 250 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after weeks of desperate resistance, ending the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine and allowing President Vladmir Putin to claim a rare victory in his faltering campaign.

Reuters saw buses leave the steelworks, where the defenders had resisted in a complex of bunkers and tunnels, overnight and five arrived in the Russian city of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said the injured would be treated.

What will happen to the fighters was unclear, although the Kremlin said Mr Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards.

The outcome of a battle that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance came as invading Russian forces struggled elsewhere, with troops retreating from the outskirts of Kharkiv in the northeast.

On the international front, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden and Finland would submit their respective applications for NATO membership on Wednesday, abandoning their longstanding policy of neutrality amid concerns over the wider intentions of Putin.

Their leaders have expressed optimism that Turkey’s objections to membership can be overcome amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at smoothing their path to the 30-nation alliance.

Their decision will lead to the very expansion of the Western alliance that Putin invokes as one of the main justifications for what he calls his “special military operation”.

Mariupol and the Azovstal steel plant amid ongoing <a class=Russian military action in Ukraine. Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images” height=”349″ src=”https://www.irishtimes.com/polopoly_fs/1.4880713!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg” width=”620″/>

Mariupol and the Azovstal steel plant amid ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

city ​​in ruins

The complete capture of Mariupol is Russia’s biggest victory since its February 24 invasion and gives Moscow full control of the Sea of ​​Azov coast and unbroken parts of eastern and southern Russia. ‘Ukraine.

But the port city is now in ruins and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed by Russian bombardment and siege.

Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had “laid down their arms and surrendered”, 51 of them seriously injured. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.

Russian Defense Ministry video showed fighters leaving the factory, some carried on stretchers, others with their hands raised to be searched by Russian troops.

While the two sides were talking about a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the massive steel mill, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside and whether any form exchange of prisoners had been agreed.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told a briefing that kyiv would not disclose the number of fighters inside the plant until all were safe.

“The ‘Mariupol’ garrison has fulfilled its combat mission,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in a statement.

“The Supreme Military Command ordered commanders of units stationed in Azovstal to save the lives of personnel.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said: “Ukraine needs living Ukrainian heroes.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv intended to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded once their condition stabilized, but neither side disclosed the terms of a specific deal.

Natalia, the wife of a sailor among those locked in the factory, told Reuters she hoped “there will be an honest exchange”. But she was still worried: “What Russia is doing now is inhumane.

In a statement on Monday, the Azov regiment, the main Ukrainian unit that had held out in the steelworks, said it had achieved its goal of 82 days of resistance by allowing the rest of the country to be defended.

The regiment, now part of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, was originally a far-right militia, and Moscow has described defeating its fighters as central to its stated goal of ‘denazification’. from Ukraine. Russia accuses them of mistreating Russian speakers, one of its justifications for war, which kyiv and its Western backers call a false pretense.

This screenshot obtained from video released by <a class=the Russian Defense Ministry shows a Ukrainian serviceman being escorted by pro-Russian military after leaving the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Photo: Document/Russian Defense Ministry/AFP” height=”349″ src=”https://www.irishtimes.com/polopoly_fs/1.4880870!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg” width=”620″/>

This screenshot obtained from video released by the Russian Defense Ministry shows a Ukrainian serviceman being escorted by pro-Russian military after leaving the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Photo: Document/Russian Defense Ministry/AFP

‘Animals’

Top Russian lawmakers have spoken out against any prisoner swaps. Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, said: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged. Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of the Russian negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated fighters “animals in human form” and said they should be executed.

The United Nations and Red Cross say the true death toll from the siege is still uncounted, but it is certain to be the worst in Europe since the 1990s wars in Chechnya and the Balkans .

For months, residents of Mariupol were driven to basements under perpetual bombardment, with no access to food, fresh water or heating, and bodies littered the streets.

Two strikes – on a maternity ward and a theater where hundreds of people had taken refuge – have become global emblems of Russian tactics of devastating population centers.

Thousands of civilians were reportedly buried in mass graves or makeshift graves in gardens, and Ukraine says Moscow forcibly deported thousands of residents to Russia.

Moscow denies targeting civilians or deporting them. operation”.

Ukraine is progressing

Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces are advancing at their fastest pace in more than a month, driving Russian forces from the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Ukraine says its forces have reached the Russian border, 40 km north of Kharkiv. They also pushed at least as far as the Siverskiy Donets River 40 km to the east, where they could threaten the supply lines of the main Russian advance into the Donbass.

Russia continues to build on this lead, despite heavy losses.

In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that if the reports were true, the Russian army had suffered “impressive losses” during the invasion of Ukraine and there was no didn’t know how long she could sustain her campaign. – Reuters


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