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Ukraine evacuates Mariupol to Russian control

After a months long siege, the eastern city has fallen to the Russian army, giving Putin his first propaganda win of the war.

A service member of pro-Russian troops rides an armoured personnel carrier escorting buses with service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at Azovstal steel works in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

The Russian military announced on Tuesday that they had captured Mariupol, one of their central war targets. This has come after the surrender of more than 250 fighters that had been defending the Azovstal steel plant. They had been holding the installation for 82 days, it was built to stand nuclear destruction.

“Over the past 24 hours, 265 militants have laid down their arms and surrendered, including 51 seriously wounded,” Russia’s defence ministry said.

While Russian claims in the conflict have oft been dismissed as bluster, this surrender does seem like the end of serious armed resistance in the city. There remains some number of defenders though the government in Kyiv has refused to say how many are still there.

“We understand the scope of the rescue operation, but it is also sensitive information, and it will not be disclosed until the rescue operation is completed,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said.

Describing the fighters as “our heroes”, Maliar said that the operation was the only way to save them, adding that a “military deblockade” was impossible.

A siege on a scale not seen in Europe for decades

The blockade of the city was started on March 2 after deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov said the city was surrounded on all sides.

Standout moments in an already brutal conflict include the bombing of the maternity hospital in the city as well as the attack on the theatre, killing an estimated 600 people.

By March 18 Russian troops had began to infiltrate the city, leading to the first street-by-street fighting. Ukrainians were deported to Russian territory as the once-bustling city was annihilated. By the end of March, the office of Mayor Boichenko said 40 percent of the city was destroyed with a further 50 percent damaged.

Much of the city had been captured by the Russian army by mid-April, with just the steelworks left. A month later, the last defenders have surrendered.

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy said on Monday night,“Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, as well as the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys [that are left in Mariupol.”