Russia has claimed to have fully captured Mariupol in what would be its biggest victory yet in its war with Ukraine, marking an end to a weeks-long attack that left the strategic port city in ruins.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin on Friday the “complete liberation” of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, and the city as a whole, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
“The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant … has been completely liberated,” the defence ministry said in a statement. It said a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at the steelworks had surrendered since Monday, including more than 500 on Friday.
A defence ministry video purporting to show the surrender showed a line of unarmed men approaching Russian soldiers outside the plant and giving their names. The Russians then carefully searched each man and their possessions and also appeared to be asking them to show their tattoos.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the last defenders at the steelworks had been told by Ukraine’s military that they could get out and save their lives. The Ukrainians did not immediately confirm the Russian figures on Azovstal.
Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces did not comment on Russia’s claims in its morning update on Saturday.
The abandonment of the bunkers and tunnels of the bombed-out plant by the Azov Regiment means an end to the most destructive siege of a war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly three months ago.
Much of Mariupol has been reduced to a smoking ruin, with more than 20,000 civilians feared dead.
The defence of the steel mill had been led by Ukraine’s Azov regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast its invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russia said the Azov commander was taken away from the plant in an armoured vehicle.
Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of the steel mill’s defenders for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals. That has stirred international fears about their fate.
Source: Al Jazeera
BDST: 1343 HRS, MAY 21, 2022