Ukrainian forces have completed their “combat mission” in the besieged city of Mariupol, according to a statement from the country’s military.
Commanders of units stationed at the massive Azovstal steel plant were ordered to “save the lives of their personnel”, the statement from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine also said.
Hundreds of people were evacuated on Monday from the steelworks, the last bastion of a city that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under incessant Russian bombardment.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described the evacuation operation in a separate video statement, noting that some Ukrainian forces remain in Azovstal.
“Fifty-three seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical center in Novoazovsk for medical treatment,” she said. “Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor.”
An “exchange procedure” will see the evacuees eventually brought home, Malyar also said.
“Ukraine needs living Ukrainian heroes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement on the evacuation on Monday, thanking Ukraine’s military and negotiators, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.
“The 82nd day of our defense is coming to an end. A difficult day. But this day, like all the others, is precisely about saving our country and our people,” Zelensky said.
The Russian Defense Ministry had earlier said a ceasefire had been established to allow the passage of wounded Ukrainian servicemen, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.