Russia announces surrender of 265 Ukrainian Azovstal steelworks fighters

Russia announced on Tuesday the surrender of 265 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold of resistance in the port city of Mariupol, from where the Ukrainian government was trying to get its last fighters out.

Last month Moscow claimed control of the strategic port city after a weeks-long siege. However, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers remained entrenched in underground tunnels under the huge industrial zone of Azovstal, surrounded by Russian troops.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 265 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered, including 51 wounded who were taken to a hospital in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.

For its part, the Military Intelligence Department of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Telegram that the exchange of these soldiers “will be carried out to repatriate these Ukrainian heroes as soon as possible”, indirectly confirming that these men, who “fulfilled” their mission , were effectively in Russian hands.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Verechtchuk also referred to an exchange, but only in relation to “52 seriously wounded soldiers.” “When their condition has stabilized, we will exchange them for Russian prisoners of war,” she said on Telegram.

“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained vital time to build up reserves, regroup and mobilize forces, and receive help from allies,” according to the ministry.

According to the Ukrainian army, the resistance at the steel mill allowed the delay of the transfer of 20,000 Russian soldiers to other parts of Ukraine, thus preventing Moscow from quickly capturing the southern city of Zaporizhia.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 has left thousands dead and forced millions to flee.

try to stay alive

Ukraine is holding out longer than initially expected against the Russian military, aided by weapons and money from its Western allies. After surrounding the capital, kyiv, in the first weeks of the war, Moscow is now focusing its offensive on the Donbas region, in the east, bordering Russia.

The kyiv government assures that Russian troops are withdrawing from the outskirts of Kharkov, the country’s second largest city, to deploy in Donbas.

The fighting around Kharkov destroyed entire villages.

In Ruska Lozova, north of the city, Rostislav Stepanenko, 53, told AFP that his job was “trying to stay alive” and recounted how he survived a devastating bombardment, caught in the line of fire between Russian forces and ukrainian “Hopefully I’ll make it to 54, but I wouldn’t expect it today,” he said with a nervous smile.

non-stop bombing

“Ukrainian armed forces are repelling constant attacks in those areas where Russia is still trying to advance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech on Monday.

Taking Severodonetsk, the easternmost city held by Ukrainian forces, would allow Russia de facto control of Luhansk, one of the two regions, along with Donetsk, that make up Donbas.

Lugansk regional governor Sergei Gaiday said Russian troops were “non-stop shelling Severodonetsk” and said on Tuesday that two buildings of the city’s general hospital had been hit overnight.

“We have ten dead and three injured in the region,” he wrote on Telegram.

For the time being Russia’s attempt to encircle Severodonetsk was repelled by Ukrainian forces, who blew up railway bridges to slow their advance.

Gaiday said on Tuesday that the Russians had been forced to withdraw to the towns of Girske and Sirotyne, near Severodonetsk.

Russian shelling continued across the country overnight and aerial sirens were heard across Ukraine on Tuesday.

“Today is a bad morning in the Chernigov region, an official of the regional military administration of the northern zone wrote on Telegram on Tuesday.

In the west, the Lviv regional military administration said a military infrastructure facility “almost on the border with Poland” had been hit.

And the army command in the south said that Odesa and Mykolaiv had also been attacked and that there were casualties in both cities.

NATO is not a direct threat

Facing Russian aggression, Sweden and Finland, which share a long border with Russia, are about to give up decades of military non-alignment and join the NATO alliance.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Monday that the measure does not represent “a direct threat to us (…) but the expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly generate a response from us.”

For their part, the foreign ministers of the European Union met on Monday to try to decree an embargo on Russian oil that would join the other ongoing sanctions.

However, the proposal on oil has so far been blocked by Hungary due to its cost.

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