Ukrainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia

The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine.

 A view shows an explosion at a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 11, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A view shows an explosion at a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 11, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Ukraine's military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.

The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.

With the rest of Mariupol firmly in Russian hands, hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had holed up beneath the city's Azovstal steelworks. Civilians inside were evacuated in recent weeks, and more than 260 troops, some of them wounded, left the plant for Russian-controlled areas late on Monday.

"The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement announcing evacuations.

"The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time," it added.

Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 16, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 16, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Ukraine's deputy defense minister said 53 injured troops from the Azovstal steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the east.

Another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Deputy Defence Minister Anna Malyar said. All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.

It was not clear how many troops remained in Azovstal. Ukraine's military said efforts were underway to evacuate those still inside.

Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.

"We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an early morning address. "There are severely wounded ones among them. They're receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive."

Arriving in Novoazovsk in a bus marked with Z, a symbol for Russia's invasion, men could be seen stacked on stretchers on three levels. They stared out the windows without reacting. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.

Ukraine is working on "further stages" of the evacuation of fighters defending the Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Tuesday.

She gave no other details in a post on the Telegram messaging app but wrote: "God willing, everything will be fine."

Russia-backed separatists said on Tuesday that 256 Ukrainian servicemen who had been holed up in Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant "have surrendered" and that 51 were wounded. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Ukrainian fighters who surrendered would be treated "in accordance with international standards," and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed this.

Russian investigative committee will question Ukrainian fighters who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in city of Mariupol, TASS news agency quoted the committee as saying on Tuesday.

The questioning will be done as part of the Russian investigation into what Moscow calls "criminal cases concerning Ukrainian regime crimes," TASS added.

Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol's devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine's resistance and of Russia's willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.

The first evacuations late on Monday came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.

A Russian lawmaker taking part in peace talks with Kyiv said on Tuesday that Russia should consider the death penalty for what he called nationalist fighters from Ukraine's Azov regiment.

In a debate in the lower house of Russia's parliament after the defenders of Ukraine's Azovstal steel works surrendered, lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said although Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, it should "think carefully" about capital punishment for the Azov fighters.

"They do not deserve to live after the monstrous crimes against humanity that they have committed and that are committed continuously against our prisoners," he said.

Ongoing fighting

Eight people were killed and 12 wounded in a Russian air strike on the village of Desna in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv on Tuesday, the regional emergency service said.

The Chernihiv region's governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said earlier on Tuesday: "Yes, there are no more occupiers in Chernihiv region but it is easy for them to reach us. Don't ignore air raid warnings!"

The British Defense Ministry stated that close to 3,500 buildings have been destroyed in Russia's advancement towards Kyiv, and are also trying to regain momentum in its assault on Donbas. 

The ministry also states Russia's readiness to utilize heavy artillery against inhabited areas with disregard to its proportionality. They theorize that Russia is doing this in order to avoid the risk of flying aircraft outside of its frontlines.

Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

A village in Russia's western province of Kursk bordering Ukraine came under Ukrainian fire on Tuesday, regional governor Roman Starovoit said, but there were no injuries, although three houses and a school were hit.

Russian border guards returned fire to quell the shooting from large-caliber weapons on the border village of Alekseyevka, Starovoit wrote on messaging app Telegram.

Hours later, Russian forces reportedly suffered heavy losses near Sievierodonetsk while trying to advance on the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, but have instead retreated, according to the Ukrainian General Staff of Armed Forces. 

Russia's defense ministry said on Tuesday that its missiles destroyed US and European arms shipments in Ukraine's western Lviv region.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are strengthening their position at the Russian border in order to prevent Ukrainian forces to enter those territories, according to a Tuesday morning update from the Ukrainian General Staff of Armed Forces, and had likely done so due to the recent retreat of Russian forces from Kharkiv due to Ukrainian pushback.

Yet another mass grave discovered

Another mass grave was discovered near Makarov in the Kyiv region when police discovered three bodies of civilians killed by Russian forces, Pravda reported citing regional police.

"Two people were shot in the head, and another one in the stomach," the Chief of Police in the Kyiv region stated.

One of the victims was discovered to be a Czech citizen, who worked as a truck driver in Ukraine before the war began and is survived by his wife and brother, according to the report. The other two have yet to be identified, according to the report.

The burials were found where Russian forces were stationed during the fighting.

Casualties

Russian casualties, since the start of the invasion, include nearly 28,000 personnel, 1,235 tanks, 3,009 armored personnel vehicles, 578 artillery systems, 167 helicopters, 97 cruise missiles, 2,109 vehicles and 13 warships as of Tuesday.

Peace talks

Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stagnated, officials said on Tuesday, with both sides trading blame and Moscow indicating a return to talks may be difficult.

Russia accused Ukraine of hardening its stance and the West for bolstering the government in Kyiv, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Washington, London and Brussels want to use Ukraine to their strategic advantage.

Lavrov said he believes no pace deal can be made if negotiators try to "transfer the dialogue" to focus on what the West had to say instead of the immediate situation in Ukraine. That rules out chances for progress in talks, he added.

"We always say that we are ready for negotiations ... but we were given no other choice," Lavrov said.

Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since the end of February 2022, just days after Russia invaded its neighbour, but there has been little communication between them in recent weeks.

Also on Tuesday, Lavrov's deputy Andrey Rudenko said Ukraine "has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process," while Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky, said talks are not being conducted in any format.

"The (U.S.) State Department should not try to create "conditions" through military assistance to Kyiv. Useless," Slutsky said.

The United States is expected to approve a $40 billion package of military and economic aid for Ukraine this week, with overall supply of weapons and aid from the West significantly increasing in recent weeks. Read full story

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak confirmed that talks are "on hold" as Russia is not willing to accept that it "will not achieve any goals" and that the war is no longer going according to the Kremlin's rules.

"Russia does not demonstrate a key understanding of today's processes in the world," Podolyak said, according to Ukrainian media. "And its extremely negative role."