The Ukrainian military has officially ended the defence of Mariupol, handing total control of the strategic port city to Russia, which has been effectively controlling the key city in the south of the country.
Ukraine's only holdout in the heavily bombarded city was the massive Azovstal steel plant, where hundreds of fighters remained trapped, refusing to surrender. Late on Monday, more than 250 fighters were evacuated to Russian-controlled territory, where they would now be exchanged Russian prisoners of war.
Units Told to Save Lives
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has announced the end of the combat mission in Mariupol and asked the units in Azovstal steelworks plant to save the lives of the personnel, CNN reported.
More than a month earlier, Russia said it took control of the entire urban area of Mariupol city after weeks of intense fighting. The Russian military said the strategically important city was cleared of Ukrainian Armed Forces and foreign mercenaries.
"The entire urban area of Mariupol has been completely cleared ... remnants of the Ukrainian group are currently completely blockaded on the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant ... Their only chance to save their lives is to voluntarily lay down their arms and surrender," the Russian defence ministry had said.
Nearly Three-Monts-Long Defense
However, the symbolic defense of Mariupol went on for another month, with Ukrainian fighters refusing to leave the steel plant. More than 500 soldiers remained in the underground bunkers in the steel plant, putting up a last-ditch fight to ensure that Russian troops do not take full control of the city.
On Monday, the soldiers were evacuated from the steel plant, and many of them appeared to be in urgent need of medical care, CBS reported.
"Over the past 24 hours, 265 militants laid down their arms and surrendered, including 51 heavily wounded," the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday, the report added. However, Ukraine refused to call the move a surrender. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the evacuation was aimed at saving lives.
"Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It's our principle ... The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time," Zelenskyy said.