Ukraine asked all remaining soldiers in the Azovstal factory to lay down their weapons, stop resisting after nearly three months of entrenching.
“The higher military command has ordered to stop the defense of the city of Mariupol and save the lives of the soldiers stationed there,” said Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion entrenched at the Azovstal iron and steel plant on 20/02. 5 posted on Telegram.
Mr. Prokopenko said the current priority is to transfer the soldiers’ bodies Ukraine out of the Azovstal factory and the process is ongoing. “We always insist on three of the most important conditions: the movement of civilians, the wounded and the dead,” battalion commander Azov wrote.
Civilians were evacuated from the tunnel system of the Azovstal plant through a UN-led operation, while wounded Ukrainian soldiers received help, Mr. Prokopenko said.
A day earlier, Major Bohdan Krotevych, another Azov battalion commander, announced that he would continue fighting even though many soldiers had surrendered. Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said on May 18 that no Ukrainian commander had left the Azovstal steel plant.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu today announced that the country’s troops continued to besiege the Azovstal factory, 1,908 Ukrainian soldiers defending here have laid down their weapons and surrendered. The wounded were transferred to a hospital in an area controlled by the DPR for treatment, while the rest were sent to a detention center in the town of Yelenovka, on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk.
Russia and Ukraine have not released any details about the deal that led to the surrender of Ukrainian troops in Azovstal to Russian and separatist forces. The Ukrainian side hopes that the soldiers will be returned in a prisoner exchange, but many MPs in the State Duma (Russian lower house) say they should be tried on charges of “terrorism”.
Western experts said that the fall of Azovstal fortress marked Russia’s complete control of Mariupol, an important milestone in the special military operation in Ukraine. This is considered one of the most concrete victories of Russian forces from the beginning of the campaign to date.
Controlling Mariupol helps Russia establish a land corridor from the Crimean peninsula to the Donbass, and at the same time helps Russia to reduce its forces besieging the Azovstal factory to switch to other areas in the eastern Ukraine battlefield.
Nguyen Tien (According to AFP)
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