Ukrainian troops, not commanders, surrender at Azovstal

"The combat mission in Mariupol has ended," said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby * Russian armored train blown up in occupied Ukraine

A convoy of pro-Russian troops is seen before the expected evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 16, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A convoy of pro-Russian troops is seen before the expected evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine, May 16, 2022.

Top-ranking Ukrainian commanders at Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks are still inside the plant and have yet to surrender, local media quoted pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin as saying on Wednesday.

DAN news agency quoted Pushilin as saying that the hundreds of fighters who had given themselves up did not include any commanders of the highest level. "They have not left (the plant)" as of now, he said.

Russia said on Wednesday that a total of 959 Ukrainian fighters, including 80 wounded, had surrendered from the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks since Monday.

Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said that a court would decide the fate of the Ukrainian fighters who had surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, a local media outlet reported.

After capturing the steel plant, Russian forces are reportedly seeking to demolish it, according to Pravda

Russia will finance the reconstruction of territories in Ukraine that it has taken control of and will repair roads that link those areas with Russia, RIA quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin as saying on Wednesday.

Khusnullin said Russia had "freed" the territories.

He also said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe by capacity, will supply energy to Russia and to Ukraine if the latter pays for it, RIA reported. Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant from Ukraine.

At least 10 Ukrainians killed by Russians in Donetsk region

At least 10 Ukrainian civilians, including two children, were killed by Russian forces in the eastern region of Donetsk on Wednesday, regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said in an online message.

Kirilenko, who did not give details, said a further seven people had been injured.

Battle of Mariupol

The battle for Mariupol lasted for almost two months reportedly claiming thousands of lives, both combatant and civilian. Azovstal remained the last bastion of Ukrainian fighters in the city.

"The combat mission in Mariupol has ended," said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Tuesday.

"Today, the entire Mariupol is under the control of the Russian army, the people's militia of the Donetsk People's Republic, and the territory of the Azovstal plant with the remnants of nationalists and foreign mercenaries located [there] is securely blocked," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 21.

"Despite Russian forces having encircled Mariupol for over ten weeks, staunch Ukrainian resistance delayed Russia’s ability to gain full control over the city," The UK Defense Ministry summarized the impact of the battle in a Wednesday morning intelligence update. "This frustrated its early attempts to capture a key city and inflicted costly personnel losses amongst Russian forces."

Mariupol is the second major Ukrainian city after Kerson to fall to Russia.

Russian armored train blown up in occupied Ukraine

Ukrainian fighters blew up an armored train carrying Russian troops using an explosive device in the occupied southern city of Melitopol, the Ukrainian territorial defense force said on Wednesday.

Reuters could not independently verify the claim. Russia's Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

The city of Melitopol in the region of Zaporizhzhia lies in a belt of southern Ukrainian land that was occupied by Russian forces after they invaded on Feb. 24.

The Ukrainian territorial defense, the reservist branch of the armed forces, said an explosive device detonated directly under a carriage carrying servicemen.

Their statement, published on Facebook, did not elaborate on the extent of the damage.

The war continues in Donbas, Kharkiv

Ukraine's military reported heavy artillery barrages and airstrikes along all its fronts on Wednesday morning, as Ukraine's own thrust north of Kharkiv was being restrained by Russian forces.

Ukraine has repeatedly said that the immediate strategic objective of Russia was to create a land bridge between captured Ukrainian territories and pro-Russian separatist regions.

"We have long talked about the significance of Mariupol as a major economic port on the Sea of Azov and also geographically relevant to the fighting in the east, sort of at the southern end of near where the Donbas region cuts across the extreme East of Ukraine," said Kirby.  "And we have long talked about the fact that we believe the Russians were going to try to encircle Ukrainian troops that are in the Donbas region and in the east, and to be able to free up forces to do that from the south meant Mariupol was important to them. "

"It's clear that the Russians still have an intent here to encircle and to occupy the Donbas and the Eastern part of the country," Kirby continued. "They have not succeeded in that. Mariupol aside, the fighting still goes on in the Donbas, there's a lot of back and forth."

Kirby said that the Ukrainian forces in Donbas were still putting off stiff resistance in villages in the region.

Ukraine regained control over the village of Dementiivka, a settlement in the Kharkiv Oblast on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post by the Ukrainian General Staff of Armed Forces.

8-13 prison sentences for some Russian militants, agents

Two Russian militants from the Luhansk Oblast were sentenced to eight and ten years in prison respectively, according to a report from Pravda, citing a statement made by Ukraine Security Service spokesperson Artem Dekhtyarenko. 

Meanwhile, a Russian spy in the Rivne Oblast is seeing 13 years in prison for collecting information on Ukrainian intelligence, equipment, and deployment of Ukrainian troops.

Russian allies

The status of Russia's allies Belarus and Transnistria hasn't changed this week, with Belarusian troops still stationed on the border with Ukraine, and tensions still high in the Moldovan separatist territory, the Ukrainian military said on Wednesday.

While the UK Defense Ministry has said that the positioning of Belarusian troops on the border was to force Ukrainian soldiers to position opposite in response, a senior US defense official said on Monday that they saw no indication of that.

On Wednesday morning the UK Defense Ministry said that Russia used a significant amount of auxiliaries to conquer Mariupol, including thousands of Chechens.

"These forces likely consist of both individual volunteers and National Guard units, which are routinely dedicated to securing the rule of Chechen Republic Head, Ramazan Kadyrov," said the UK Defense Ministry. "The combat deployment of such disparate personnel demonstrates Russia's significant resourcing problems in Ukraine and is likely contributing to a disunited command which continues to hamper Russia’s operations."