Russia declares complete victory in Mariupol
Published: 10:23 AM, 21 May 2022 Updated: 10:23 AM, 21 May 2022
Russia has declared victory in its months-long battle to conquer the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. - Reports BBC
The last fighters defending the city's Azovstal steel plant have now surrendered, Moscow officials said.
For months the troops had been holed up in the huge complex, preventing Russia from establishing complete control over the city.
Friday's evacuation marks the end of the most destructive siege of the war, with Mariupol now in complete ruins.
The city and its steel plant are now "completely liberated" after 531 Ukrainian troops left the site, the Russian defence ministry said.
"The underground facilities of the enterprise, where the militants were hiding, came under the full control of the Russian armed forces," it added in a statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the site's last remaining defenders had been given permission to leave.
"Today the boys received a clear signal from the military command that they can get out and save their lives," he told a Ukrainian television channel earlier on Friday.
For weeks the Azovstal site had been completely encircled.
Russian forces blocked all humanitarian aid from entering, bombarded the site from the air and demanded its remaining defenders put down their weapons.
Many of those trapped inside were civilians, including women, children and elderly people. Earlier this month they were completely evacuated following painstaking negotiations coordinated by the UN and Red Cross that lasted for weeks.
But the continued refusal of the site's Ukrainian defenders to surrender meant Russia was unable to command complete control over the strategic port city.
For many Ukrainians, it also turned the Azovstal defenders into national heroes who symbolised the country's stubborn resistance.
The hundreds of soldiers holed up inside included marines, the National Guard (including the Azov regiment), border guards, police and territorial defence units.
Camped out with diminishing food supplies and no water, they lived for weeks in underground bunkers and tunnels without seeing daylight.
The sprawling four-square-mile complex is a maze of tunnels designed to survive a nuclear war.
Their commander said all wounded troops had now been taken away by Russian buses and ambulances. - BBC