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Hundreds of Ukrainian troops evacuated from Azovstal steelworks after 82-day assault |

More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers, many of them wounded, have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, appearing to cede control of the city to Russia after 82 days of bombardment.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said late on Monday that 53 heavily wounded soldiers were evacuated to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk and that more than 200 others were transported through a corridor to Olenivka.

It was unclear how many soldiers remained in the steel plant, but Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said “we hope to save the lives of our boys”.

“I want to underline: Ukraine needs its Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle,” he said in a video statement.

The evacuation is likely to mark 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.

For Ukrainians, the Azovstal plant has become a symbol of resistance, with hundreds of troops continuing to fight on there even after the rest of the city had fallen to Russian forces.

Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said that the soldiers defending the steel plant had fulfilled their combat mission.

“The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel,” the General Staff said in a statement on its Facebook account. “Efforts to rescue defenders who remain on the territory of Azovstal continue.”

In a statement, the Azov regiment said that it was fulfilling orders to save the lives of its troops.

Buses carrying Ukrainian Azovstal servicemen leave Mariupol
Buses carrying Ukrainian Azovstal servicemen leave Mariupol. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Azov regiment, which has in the past had nationalist far-right affiliations, was a militia formed to fight the Russians after the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, but has become a unit of the Ukrainian national guard.

“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of thesupreme military command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov regiment said in a social media post.

It said its troops in Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in the south-east, had held out for 82 days, buying time for the rest of Ukraine to battle Russian forces and secure western arms needed to withstand Russia’s assault.

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

The evacuation came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.

“An agreement has been reached on the removal of the wounded,” Russia’s defence ministry said. “A humanitarian corridor has been opened through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are being taken to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.”

Azovstal’s last defenders had been holding out for weeks in bunkers and tunnels built deep underground to withstand nuclear war. Civilians were evacuated from inside the plant, one of the largest metallurgical facilities in Europe, earlier this month.

The wife of an Azov regiment member described conditions at the plant earlier on Monday: “They are in hell. They receive new wounds every day. They are without legs or arms, exhausted, without medicines,” Natalia Zaritskaya said.

Read More: Hundreds of Ukrainian troops evacuated from Azovstal steelworks after 82-day assault |

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