“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It’s our principle,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in announcing that troops had begun leaving the mill and its warren of Cold War-era tunnels and bunkers.
Mariupol appeared on the verge of falling to the Russians on Tuesday as Ukraine moved to abandon the steel plant where hundreds of its fighters had held out for months under relentless bombardment in the last bastion of resistance in the devastated city, reports AP.
The capture of Mariupol would make it the biggest city to be taken by Moscow’s forces yet and would give the Kremlin a badly needed victory, though the landscape has largely been reduced to rubble.
More than 260 fighters — some of them seriously wounded and taken out on stretchers — left the ruins of the Azovstal plant on Monday and turned themselves over to the Russian side in a deal reached by the two warring parties. Ukrainian authorities said they were working to extract the remaining soldiers from the sprawling steel mill, though how many were still there was unclear.
Russia called the operation a mass surrender. The Ukrainians avoided using that word and instead said its garrison had completed its mission.
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