Mariupol: Ukraine declares ‘combat mission’ over amid Azovstal evacuation
Commanders of units stationed at the city’s massive Azovstal steelworks plant have been ordered “to save the lives of their personnel,” the statement by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine also said.
Hundreds of people were evacuated on Monday from the steel plant, the last holdout in a city that had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under relentless Russian bombardment.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described the evacuation operation in a separate video statement, noting that some Ukrainian forces remain at Azovstal.
“Fifty-three seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical facility in Novoazovsk for medical care,” she said. “Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor.”
An “exchange procedure” will see the evacuees eventually brought home, Malyar also said.
“The 82nd day of our defense is coming to an end. A difficult day. But this day, like all others, is aimed precisely at saving our country and our people,” Zelensky said.
The Russian Defense Ministry had earlier said that a ceasefire had been established to allow the passage of wounded Ukrainian servicemen, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
Many civilians have already been evacuated. But Ukrainian fighters in the city had, in April, vowed to “fight until the end,” despite being surrounded, low on ammunition and outnumbered by Russian forces.
Russian TV network RT on Monday showed video of around 10 to 12 buses leaving the steel plant. The buses appeared to be a mixture of hospital and ordinary transport, some marked with a red cross.
In her statement, Malyar credited “the defenders of Mariupol” for gaining Ukraine “critical time to form reserves, regroup forces and receive assistance from partners.”
“Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to unblock Azovstal by military means,” she said.
The country’s Azov Regiment on Monday also issued a statement saying “the entire Mariupol garrison” was following orders to save lives.
“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov Regiment said in a statement late Monday.
“The defenders of Mariupol fulfilled the order, despite all the difficulties, and distracted the overwhelming forces of the enemy for 82 days.”
CNN’s Olga Voitovych contributed to this report.