Ukraine has ended its “combat mission” in Mariupol and is working to evacuate its remaining troops, the country’s military command said late Monday, effectively ceding control of the city to Russia.
Mariupol has been encircled by Russian troops since early March, suffering under weeks of brutal shelling. By late April, Moscow claimed it had taken the city. Since then, however, a small group of Ukrainian soldiers remained in the city, stationed at the Azovstal plant.
Those soldiers are now being pulled out, Ukraine said. The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement published soon after midnight that 264 Ukrainian soldiers had been evacuated from the Azovstal plant.
“Ukraine needs its heroes alive,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address. “That’s our principle.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said 53 severely wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk in Russian-controlled territory. She also announced an “exchange procedure” to swap Russian prisoners of war and Ukrainian soldiers.
Five buses carrying soldiers from Azovstal arrived late Monday in the town, Reuters reported. One of them was marked with Z like many Russian military vehicles in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy thanked the Red Cross and the United Nations for assisting in the evacuation negotiations.
Elsewhere, however, the Ukrainian army said it had made progress around Kharkiv, near the Russian border in Ukraine’s northeast. The country’s troops have been able to push back Russians close to the border, retaking a number of surrounding villages, a U.S. defense official told Reuters.
In western Ukraine, Russia carried out air raids over the city of Lviv, where many Ukrainians have fled to escape the constant drumbeat of war in the east.
Sergei Kuznetsov contributed reporting.