They have become symbols of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion launched on February 24. The city of Mariupol, now completely devastated, and its immense steel complex of Azovstal would be, this Tuesday, in the process of yielding. Mariupol’s resistance was withering there: the Russian army exerted ever-increasing pressure there. Several hundred Ukrainian fighters who had entrenched themselves in the several tens of kilometers of basements of the steelworks, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, surrendered to the pro-Russian forces. They would now be taken prisoner. But what happened these last two days at the Azovstal steelworks? 20 minutes make the point.

But what happened at the Azovstal steelworks?

Some 265 Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steelworks surrendered to pro-Russian forces and were taken prisoner, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. “In the past 24 hours, 265 fighters have surrendered and taken themselves prisoner. More than 50 of them are seriously injured,” the ministry said. The day before, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar announced that 264 Ukrainian fighters, including 53 wounded, had been evacuated on Monday from the steel plant to localities located in territory controlled by Russian and pro-Russian forces, Novoazovsk and Olenivka .

Advertisement

What will happen to these nearly 300 Ukrainian fighters?

“All fighters who need medical assistance are sent to Novoazovsk hospital”, in pro-Russian separatist territory, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. For her part, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Ganna Malyar had already assured, on Monday, that the combatants should in the future be repatriated to territory controlled by Ukraine, “as part of a procedure of exchange”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised in his now traditional evening video that the main thing was to “save the lives of our guys”. “I want to emphasize this: Ukraine needs its living heroes. This is our principle,” he added.

View of the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in Mariupol. – /AP/SIPA

The Ukrainian general staff has indicated that “the rescue operation of defenders of Ukraine stranded continues”, without specifying their number. Considering that these men had “fulfilled” their mission [leur résistance acharnée a notamment empêché la prise rapide par l’armée russe de la gande ville ukrainienne de Zaporijjia]the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense clarified on Telegram that “unfortunately, today Ukraine still could not unblock Azovstal by military means”.

Why did the soldiers surrender?

Last week, the Ukrainian authorities said that more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers – including 600 wounded, according to one of their commanders – were still present in the underground galleries of the gigantic steelworks. All had entrenched themselves in Azovstal after suffering the grueling siege of Mariupol for more than a month. These last entrenched Ukrainian fighters, however, announced on Monday that they had “executed the order” of the Ukrainian Supreme Command “in order to save lives”, without specifying the content of the orders received or details on the operations to come.

Advertisement

“For eighty-two days the defenders of Mariupol carried out orders despite the difficulties, pushed back the overwhelming forces of the enemy and allowed the Ukrainian army to regroup, train more personnel and receive a large number of weapons from partner countries”, detailed on social networks the Azov regiment, which has been defending the site for many weeks.

What about the situation in Mariupol?

Women, children and the elderly who had taken refuge on the steelworks site were all evacuated at the end of April, thanks to an operation coordinated by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to the Ukrainian general staff, the Russian army is continuing its bombardments and intensive artillery fire there. And if the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Monday that a truce had been established there in order to evacuate the wounded Ukrainians, kyiv did not comment. “Russian forces are fortifying positions along the southern axis, demonstrating their goals of permanently controlling the area,” the statement said. ISW (Institute for the Study of War).

As for the martyr city of Mariupol, it has been totally devastated since the Russian offensive launched on February 24. Constantly pounded by the Russian army, the port city was destroyed “over 90%”, according to its mayor, Vadim Boïtchenko. Its total capture by the Russian forces, which now seems inevitable after the order given to the last fighters of Azovstal, would allow the latter to facilitate the junction between the Crimea and the Donbass.

Advertisement