Defenders of the steelworks came out as Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback in the war, with Sweden joining Finland in deciding to seek NATO membership. And Ukraine made a symbolic gain when its forces reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.
Yet Russian forces have pounded targets in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, known as Donbass, and the death toll, already in the thousands, has steadily risen as the war looms ahead. enter its 12th week on Wednesday.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 seriously injured fighters were taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. A further 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor. She said an exchange would be worked out for their return home.
“The defenders of Mariupol have fully accomplished all the missions assigned by the command,” she said.
Officials also planned to continue trying to rescue the fighters who remained inside. Military experts usually put the number of fighters at the factory at between a few hundred and 1,000.
“The work to bring the guys home continues, and it takes delicacy and time,” Zelenskyy said.
Ahead of the start of Monday’s evacuations of the steelworks, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the injured to leave the plant for treatment in a city held by pro-Moscow separatists. It was not immediately clear whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.
After dark on Monday, several buses drove away from the steel plant accompanied by Russian military vehicles. Maliar later confirmed that the evacuation had taken place.
“Thanks to Mariupol’s defenders, Ukraine gained extremely important time to form reserves and consolidate forces and receive help from partners,” she said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.
The Ukrainian General Staff also declared on Facebook that the Mariupol garrison had completed its mission. The commander of the Azov regiment, which led the defense of the plant, said in a pre-recorded video message released on Monday that the regiment’s mission was over, with as many lives saved as possible.
“Absolutely safe plans and operations do not exist during war,” said Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko, adding that all risks were taken into account.
Elsewhere in Donbass, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk region governor. In the Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians had been killed in shelling.
The city of Lviv in western Ukraine was rocked by heavy explosions on Tuesday morning. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions accompanied by distant booms, and the burning smell appeared some time later. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which was under overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was lit with an orange glow.
The chairman of the Lviv regional military administration said that the Russians fired at military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The city of Yavoriv is less than 16 km from the Polish border.
Ukrainian troops have also advanced as Russian forces retreated from the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers who allegedly pushed them to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.
The video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a pole that looked like a Ukrainian border post with blue and yellow stripes. Then they put him on the ground while a dozen soldiers posed beside him, including one with belts of bullets draped over his shoulder.
“I am very grateful to you, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on my behalf and on behalf of my family,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “I’m very grateful to all fighters like you.”
The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers came from the border “in the Kharkiv region”, but did not give details, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.
Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops to the Sumy region, about 90 miles northwest of Kharkiv.
Russia was plagued with setbacks in the war, the most glaring being its early failure to take the capital of kyiv. Much of the fighting has shifted to Donbass but has also turned into a drag, with both sides fighting village by village.
Howitzers from the United States and other countries helped kyiv resist or gain ground against Russia, a senior US defense official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment, said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces within half a mile of 2.5 miles from the Russian border , but could not confirm if it was up to the border.