The Ukrainian defense official says efforts are continuing to evacuate the remaining soldiers from the steel plant in the besieged port city.
More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from a steel plant in Mariupol, the country’s deputy defense minister said, after a weeks-long standoff with Russian forces in the besieged southern port city.
Anna Malyar said in the early hours of Tuesday that 53 seriously wounded fighters had been transferred from the Azovstal steelworks to a hospital in Novoazovsk, while another 211 fighters had been evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.
An exchange would be worked out for his return home, he said.
Malyar added that missions are underway to rescue the remaining fighters inside the Azovstal steel plant, the last resistance stronghold in Mariupol.
“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained critically important time,” he said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.”
Azovstal has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country, which began in late February and has forced more than six million people to flee Ukraine amid widespread destruction.
Some 600 soldiers are believed to have been inside the plant, where they continued to fight even after the rest of the town fell to Russian forces.
“We hope we can save the lives of our guys,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech Monday night. “There are some seriously injured among them. They are getting attention. Ukraine needs living Ukrainian heroes.”
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Odessa, said a source indicated that several members of the far-right Azov regiment had decided to surrender, but there was no official confirmation.
“In recent days, we have heard from President Zelenskyy and other top officials here that these were very difficult negotiations,” Abdel-Hamid said.
The Ukrainian regiment at the steel plant said it was carrying out orders to save the lives of troops by evacuating them.
“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the decision approved by the Supreme Military Command and expects the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov regiment said in a social media post.
He said his troops in Mariupol held out for 82 days, buying time for the rest of Ukraine to fight off Russian forces, which are continuing their offensive in the east of the country, and securing Western weapons needed to resist Russia’s attack.
The evacuation came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical center in Novoazovsk.
“An agreement has been reached on the withdrawal of the wounded,” the country’s defense ministry said on Monday. “A humanitarian corridor has been opened through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are being transferred to a medical center in Novoazovsk.”