Mariupol’s Azovstal Iron and Steel Company and its network of underground tunnels have been operating for weeks as a shelter and The final rejecter For about 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, including many of the Azov regiment, one of Ukraine’s most skilled – And controversial Military units.
Mariupol officials said in mid-April that up to 1,000 civilians were also hiding in the underground network. They were trapped for weeks amid an intense Russian offensive before all the women, children and the elderly were evacuated in advance this month. Those who reached safety were described The brutality of the long siege In a cold and fetid shelter, where they lived without sunlight and the supplies of food and water dwindled.
The Russian bombing of the Azovstal plant appears to have continued in recent days. Videos posted on Telegram by local officials over the weekend showed burning white munitions raining down on the factory. The type of munitions cannot be independently verified, but a British military expert to Reuters It looked like a phosphorous attack or incendiary weapons.
Ukrainian officials reached a ceasefire agreement with the Russian military on Monday, as dozens of buses were seen leaving the factory. The complex evacuation is being coordinated with the help of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Moscow has not yet responded publicly to the developments in Mariupol, which Russian state media described as an order by the Ukrainian military leadership for its forces to “surrender”.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Anna Maliar, said 53 seriously wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk, a nearby town controlled by Russia-backed separatists. It added that 211 others were taken to the pro-Russian village of Olenivka. Moscow and Kiev are mediating a prisoner exchange to secure their release.
Maliar said officials were still working to rescue the remaining soldiers, though it was not clear how many were still inside. Ukrainian authorities He said last week There were approximately 1,000 rejectionist fighters in the factory.
The Battle of Mariupol, one of the bloodiest engagements of the war, attracted the world’s attention. Russia has devastated a city southeast of the Black Sea, whose population was rapidly increasing by about 450,000 before the invasion. Early on, Moscow forces besieged Mariupol, cutting off water and electricity and bombarding it ceaselessly, turning much of the city into ruins.
The loss of Mariupol is a major setback for Kiev. Russia is allowed to establish Vital land bridge Between Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.
But Ukrainian military commanders said their forces in the city have kept the Russians at bay long enough to buy crucial time for forces fighting elsewhere. Western officials noted that Russia, with the exception of Mariupol, has failed to make significant gains in eastern Ukraine despite concentrating its resources there for weeks.
“We’ve got the time we desperately need to build up reserves, regroup forces, and get help from partners,” Ukraine’s military command said in an update Monday.
“The defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time … they are forever in history.”
Adam Taylor, Noha Masih and Louisa Lovelock contributed to this report.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”