Kyiv, May 17 (EFE).- Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal steel mill in the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol have “fulfilled their mission”, after more than 200 servicemen were evacuated from the area, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said Tuesday.
Russia, however, said the soldiers were now prisoners, having “laid down their arms and surrendered”.
In a statement, Ukraine’s military high command said the Mariupol garrison had “fulfilled its combat mission” and it had ordered the “commanders of the units stationed in Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel” who were dug in there for several weeks surrounded by Russian forces.
These orders were given hours after the evacuation from the steelworks of 53 seriously wounded servicemen, who were transferred to a medical center in Novoazovsk, in the area occupied by Russian forces.
Another 211 Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated through the humanitarian corridor to Olenivka, also in Russian-controlled territory.
It was unclear how many Ukrainian soldiers remained in the steel plant.
“Azovstal: humanitarian operation is ongoing,” Iryna Vereshchuk, deputy prime minister, posted on Telegram.
“We are working on the next stages of the humanitarian operation. God willing, everything will be fine,” she added.
All of the soldiers evacuated to Russian-controlled areas, according to Kyiv, will return to territory under Ukrainian control in a prisoner exchange that has yet to be arranged.
Russia confirmed that 265 Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated, including more than 50 seriously wounded, from the Azovstal plant after “laying down their arms and surrendering”, adding that they were now being treated as “prisoners” of war.
“The defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time. They will be forever in history,” the General Staff said.
The coastal city of Mariupol has been under siege by Russian troops since the invasion of the country began on February 24.
The city, on the shores of the Sea of Azov, was heavily shelled and practically destroyed with the civilian population unable to flee the area living in subhuman conditions.
For weeks, a few hundred soldiers had been holding out against the Russian forces in the Azovstal steel complex, where civilians were also taking refuge. They were evacuated on May 7.
The fall of this last holdout in Mariupol allows Moscow to establish a land corridor between the Donbas in the east and the southern Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014. EFE