Ukraine Works to Rescue Last Fighters at Steelworks in Mariupol

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Work was underway Tuesday to rescue the last of the defenders at the Azovstal steelworks in the devastated city of Mariupol, after Ukrainian officials said the fighters had “completed their mission” and there was no way to free the plant. by military means.

The Ukrainian military avoided using the term “surrender” to describe an effort to withdraw from the steel mill in order to save as many lives as possible. Authorities planned to continue trying to rescue the unknown number of fighters left behind. It was unclear whether soldiers evacuated to Russian-controlled areas would be considered POWs.

More than 260 fighters, some with serious injuries, were evacuated from the facility on Monday and taken to areas under Russian control, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said.

“The work of bringing the children home is ongoing and requires tact and time,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He said the evacuation to the separatist-controlled area was made to rescue fighters who had endured weeks of Russian attacks in the labyrinth of underground passages beneath the facility.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to survive. This is our principle,” he said.

In this photo provided by the Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Press Office of the Ukrainian National Guard, soldiers of the Azov Special Forces Regiment, injured while fighting against Russian forces, pose for a photographer at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 10, 2022.

Press Office of the Ukrainian National Guard via AP Dmytro ‘Orest’ Kozatskyi/Azov Special Forces Regiment

Russian forces were hitting targets in the industrial area known as Donbas in eastern Ukraine, and the death toll continued to rise as the war entered its 12th week.

Ukraine made a symbolic gain when its forces reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkov region. The video showed Ukrainian soldiers posing next to him carrying a pole that resembled a Ukrainian blue-yellow striped border sign.

Ukraine’s border service said the video showing soldiers crossing the border “in the Kharkov region” did not elaborate, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to confirm the exact location.

“I am so grateful to all warriors like you,” Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers in a video message.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that 53 seriously injured fighters were taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka via a more humane corridor. She said there would be an exchange for their return home.

Before the evacuations began, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that it had reached an agreement that the wounded should leave the mill for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists.

After dark on Monday evening, several buses accompanied by Russian military vehicles left the steelworks. Maliar confirmed that the evacuation took place.

He said that the “defenders of Mariupol” had fulfilled all their duties and that it was impossible “to remove the obstacle to Azovstal by military means.”

“The defenders of Mariupol fully performed all the tasks assigned by the command,” Maliar said.

The commander of the Azov Regiment leading the defense of the facility said in a pre-recorded video message released Monday, the regiment’s mission ended by saving as many lives as possible.

“There are absolutely no safe plans and operations during the war,” said Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko.

Ukrainian soldier waving a flag with Ukrainian reading "victory for Ukraine," top and "death to enemies" Wandering atop a tank in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine on May 16, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier waves a Ukrainian flag that reads “Victory to Ukraine” and “Death to the enemies” as he mounts a tank in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, May 16, 2022.

Elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk was subjected to heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region. In the Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in the shelling.

The city of Lviv in western Ukraine was shaken by loud explosions early Tuesday. Eyewitnesses counted at least eight explosions, accompanied by explosions from afar. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which has a nighttime curfew, said the sky west of the city lit up with an orange glow.

The head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration said that the Russians opened fire on the military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The city of Yavoriv is less than 10 miles (about 15 kilometers) from the Polish border.

Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops to the Sumy region, about 90 miles (146 kilometers) northwest of Kharkov.

Russia grapples with setbacks in the war, most notably its failure to capture the capital of Kiev early. Much of the conflict shifted to Donbas, but at the same time it turned into a stalemate, with both sides fighting from village to village.

A senior US defense official said howitzers from the US and other countries helped Kiev resist or gain ground against Russia. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment, the official said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces within 1 to 4 kilometers of the Russian border, but could not confirm whether it had come all the way. to the border.

Another setback for Moscow, Sweden Seeking NATO membership Follow a similar decision by neighboring Finland. This is a historic change for countries that have been disconnected for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period. She urged its citizens to be prepared for disinformation or other attempts to divide them, she said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO member, opposed allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, saying that they did not take an “open” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups Ankara considers terrorists and that they are imposing military sanctions on Turkey.

All 30 current NATO members should allow their Nordic neighbors to join.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow “has no problem” with Sweden or Finland, which have applied for NATO membership, but “expanding military infrastructure to this region will of course provoke our reaction”.

Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in an effort to control NATO expansion, but this strategy saw a backlash. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the accession process for both could be quick.

McQuillan and Yuras Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa from Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros from Odessa, and other AP staff from around the world contributed.

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