Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters evacuated from Mariupol steel plant

Hundreds of fighters have been evacuated from a steel factory in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, after they had been holed up there for months amid bombardment by Russia.

The evacuation effort at the Azovstal steelworks marks a significant defeat for Ukraine as Russian invaders appear to have taken control of the besieged Black Sea port city.

More than 250 Ukrainian troops have been evacuated out of a total of about 600 that have been trapped in the steel plant for 82 days since Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on 24 February.

Fifty-three injured troops have been taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometres (20 miles) to the east of Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Anna Malyar said.

Another 211 people have been taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Ms Malyar said.

All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.

Among the evacuated troops were some that are severely wounded, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” he said in a late night address to Ukrainians.

“There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”

Smoke rises from Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol during shelling by Russia

(Alexei Alexandrov/AP)

Earlier this week, fighters in the Azov Batallion – the neo-Nazi unit of the National Guard of Ukraine – said their comrades inside the plant had been living in unsanitary conditions “with open wounds bandaged with non-sterile remnants of bandages, without the necessary medication and even food”.

Images show a number of troops with limbs missing.

“The conditions they are in are horrible,” Mariupol resident Alina Nesterenko said. “I have no words to describe them. That’s why we are here. We are begging, we are pleading in every possible way, we are asking for our loved ones to be saved.”

Natalia Zaritskaya, whose husband is an Azov Regiment member, described “hellish” conditions at the plant.

“They are in hell. They receive new wounds every day. They are without legs or arms, exhausted, without medicines,” she said.

Severely wounded Ukrainian servicemen at Azovstal on 10 May 2022

(Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office)

After the evacuations, Ukraine’s military said it had “ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel” and that troops there had fulfilled their combat mission.

Efforts to rescue troops still inside were under way, the military added. It did not say how many fighters remained in Azovstal, where they have been staying in bunkers and tunnels deep underground to withstand any nuclear attack by Russia.

Earlier this month, a number of civilians were evacuated from inside the plant – one of the largest metallurgical facilities in Europe. Around 1,000 women, children and elderly had been sheltering in the steel plant’s underground tunnels, according to Mariupol city council.

Mariupol is now in ruins as a result of repeated Russian attacks on the city. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, Ukraine has said.


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