More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from a steel plant in Mariupol, the country’s deputy defence minister said, after a weeks-long standoff with Russian forces in the besieged southern port city.
Anna Malyar said in the early hours of Tuesday that 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azovstal steelworks to a hospital in Novoazovsk, while an additional 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.
An exchange would be worked out for their return home, she said.
Malyar added that missions are underway to rescue the remaining fighters inside the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold of resistance in Mariupol.
“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained critically important time,” she said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.”
Azovstal has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country, which began in late February and has forced more than six million people to flee Ukraine amid widespread destruction.
Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the plant, where they continued to fight even after the rest of the city had fallen to Russian forces.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address on Monday night. “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”