Russia claims Azovstal steel plant saying they have “completely liberated” the besieged southern city of Mariupol. Ukraine has yet to corroborate Russia’s claims, which would represent a symbolic military success for Moscow if accurate.
After Moscow’s invasion began on February 24, the strategically significant port city was one of the first to be attacked. It had been besieged by Russian forces by early March, leaving people with severe food and water shortages — as well as regular bombardment that destroyed a maternity hospital and a theatre where civilians were sheltering.
By mid-April, most of the remaining Ukrainian troops were trying to keep Russian forces out of the Azovstal steel mill, which had also become a sanctuary for up to 1,000 civilians, including several badly injured people who were stuck without medical care attention.
Russia claimed “liberation” of Mariupol in late April, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected, claiming that soldiers were still struggling in the city.
Civilians have been evacuated from Azovstal since May 1. Ukraine’s military announced on May 16 that its forces had completed their “combat mission” at the steel complex, with hundreds of servicemen evacuated.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated from the factory and transferred to a pre-trial detention center, while the badly injured were treated.
Ukraine has stated that it expects to conduct a prisoner-of-war swap for the critically injured servicemen.
If confirmed, Russia’s claim on Friday would mean that after over three months of terrible warfare, the entire city of Mariupol has fallen under Russian control.
According to a Russian Defense Ministry official, the plant’s “final group of 531 insurgents surrendered.” The commander of the Azov regiment in Ukraine had already given an order for soldiers to protect their “life and health… and quit defending the city.”