Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steelworks — the last holdout of troops defending the southern port city of Mariupol — Kyiv said on Monday.
The plant had become a symbol of resistance, with around 600 soldiers holed up in underground tunnels and bunkers fighting a rear-guard battle to prevent Russian troops taking full control of the strategically located city.
But on Monday Ukraine‘s Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said more than 260 had been moved through humanitarian corridors to areas under Moscow and Russia-backed separatists’ control.
“An exchange procedure will be carried out for their further return home,” Malyar said.
The Ukrainian army said the soldiers in Mariupol had “performed their combat task” and now the main goal was to “save the lives of personnel”.
By holding the steelworks, they stopped Russian forces from rapidly capturing the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, a statement on Facebook said.
Despite the resources of its giant neighbour, Ukraine has managed to repel the Russian army for longer than many expected, fortified by weapons and cash from Western allies.
The latest example of this came Monday, when Ukraine’s defense ministry announced its troops had regained control of territory on the Russian border near the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, which has been under constant attack.