Kiev has ordered the remaining Ukrainian soldiers still holed up in the blockaded Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol to stop fighting, as Russia continues to make advances in its military operation in eastern Ukraine.
Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko made the remarks in a video on Telegram on Friday, after hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers remained trapped in their last stronghold in Mariupol as the city fell to Russia.
“The higher military command has given the order to save the lives of the soldiers of our garrison and to stop defending the city,” he said, adding that there is an “ongoing process” to remove killed soldiers from the flashpoint industrial area.
Prokopenko also noted that civilians and heavily wounded soldiers have been evacuated from the underground tunnels of the plant and that the injured have received the necessary assistance “to be later exchanged and delivered to territory controlled by Ukraine.”
He further stressed that the priority was now to transfer the fallen from the plant, saying “We have always insisted on three of the most important conditions for us: civilians, wounded, and the dead.”
The development comes as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says the 1,908 Ukrainian troops who had been trapped in Azovstal for the past weeks have surrendered since Monday.
“The blockade of the Azovstal plant continues,” Shoigu said at a ministry meeting on Friday.
He went on to say that civilians who were held in the plant by Ukrainian forces were evacuated from the area, noting that 177 people were saved, including 85 women and 47 children.
“Qualified medical and psychological assistance was provided to everyone. Nationalists blocked at the plant began to surrender. At the moment, 1,908 people have laid down their arms,” Shoigu said.
Earlier, Russia’s Defense Ministry said a total of 1,730 “Ukrainian fighters” had surrendered from Azovstal since Monday. It also said “those in need of inpatient treatment receive assistance in medical institutions” in Novoazovsk and Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the military operation against Ukraine on February 24, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Putin said one of the goals of the military operation was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
Western countries have responded to the Russian military campaign by backing Ukraine with cash and providing the country with increasingly heavy weaponry while imposing sanctions against Russia.
Moscow has repeatedly warned that such a flow of weapons to Kiev will only prolong Russia’s operations.
The conflict in Ukraine has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 13 million, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has managed to capture since beginning its offensive against Ukraine in late February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Kiev is determined to reclaim control over the country’s southern cities that have been captured by Russia.