KYIV / NOVOAZOVSK – Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, handing control of the city to Russia months after the bombing.
The evacuation of hundreds of fighters, many wounded, to Russian-controlled cities, marked the end of perhaps the longest and bloodiest war in Ukraine and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after the Russian blockade, with Ukraine saying thousands of people had been killed in the city.
“The Mariupol garrison has completed its combat mission,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement.
“The Supreme Military Command has instructed the commanders of the units stationed at Ajvastal to save the lives of the workers … the guards of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” it added.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malir said 53 soldiers wounded in the steelwork had been taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled city of Novosibirsk, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) east, while another 211 had been taken to the town of Olenivka, an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. .
He added that all evictions would be subject to possible prisoner exchanges with Russia.
About 600 troops were thought to be inside the steel plant. Ukraine’s military says it is trying to evacuate those still inside.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our sons,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a morning speech. “There are serious injuries among them. They are taking care. Ukraine needs surviving Ukrainian heroes.
Reuters reports that five buses carrying troops from Azovostal arrived in Novosibirsk late Monday. In one, like many Russian military vehicles in Ukraine, marked by Z, the men were stacked on stretchers on three levels. A man was taken out of the wheel, his head tightly wrapped in a thick bandage.
Heavy shelling has been reported
Ukrainian fighters have in recent days driven out Russian forces from areas near the former largest city of Kharkiv, before occupying the capital Kyiv and its environs.
But heavy fighting and shelling continued across vast areas of the eastern part of the country.
Zelensky’s office said Tuesday that the entire front line around Donetsk was under constant shelling, while a missile strike on the village of Desna in the northern Chernihiv region killed and injured an unspecified number of people.
Ukraine’s General Staffra said Russian forces were preparing to intensify and renew their offensive near Sloviansk and Drovyshev, southeast of the strategic city of Izim, where they had suffered losses elsewhere.
Areas near the Polish border in Kyiv and the western city of Lviv are under constant Russian attack. A Reuters eyewitness said a series of explosions took place in Lviv on Tuesday morning. A missile struck a military installation but caused no casualties, according to Zelensky’s office.
A village in Russia’s western province of Kursk, bordering Ukraine, came under fire in Ukraine on Tuesday, regional governor Roman Starovit said. He said three houses and a school were hit but no casualties were reported.
Alexeyevka fired at Russian border guards in the border village to stop the firing from large-caliber weapons, the Starvoit messaging app wrote in the Telegram.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the details of the battlefield account.
Moscow has called its nearly three-month-old invasion a “special military operation” to free Ukraine from fascists, a claim Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unpleasant war.
Putin climbs NATO
Zelensky planned to hold talks with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, his office said.
Russia has faced widespread sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, but EU foreign ministers failed to press Hungary to lift its proposed oil embargo on Monday.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner has said he is open to the idea of confiscating Russian state resources to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction.
McDonald’s Corp. has become one of the biggest global brands to exit Russia, with plans to sell all of its restaurants after working in the country for more than 30 years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday dropped his threat of retaliation against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the US-led NATO military alliance.
“As far as the expansion goes, with new members Finland and Sweden, there is no problem with these Russian states – none. And so there is no immediate threat to Russia from expanding to include these countries in this sense, “Putin said.
The remarks marked a major shift in rhetoric, including referring to NATO expansion as a direct threat to Russia’s security and justifying the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin said the United States was using NATO expansion in an “aggressive” way to escalate an already difficult global security situation and that Russia would respond if the alliance advanced weapons or troops.
Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned during the Cold War, say they now want protection provided by the NATO treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on everyone.
Plans for Finland and Sweden were thwarted when the president of NATO member Turkey said he would not approve both bids.
(Reporting by Reuters reporter Natalie Zenets and Novozvsk in Kiev; Additional report by Reuters Bureau; Writing by Rami Ayub and Lincoln Fist; Editing by Stephen Coates)