Ukraine says 264 'heroes' evacuated from Azovstal steel works as Mariupol 'combat mission' ends

·1 min read
Ukrainian troops in Azovstal steel plant
Ukrainian troops in Azovstal steel plant Dmytro 'Orest' Kozatskyi/Azov Special Forces Regiment/AFP/Getty Images

About a dozen buses transported 264 Ukrainian fighters from Mariupol's massive Azovstal steel plant to areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists as part of a deal worked out with Russia and outside groups for a future troop exchange, Ukraine said Monday night. "Fifty-three seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical facility in Novoazovsk for medical care," said Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. "Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor."

"Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, thanking the Ukrainian military and negotiators, the United Nations, and the Red Cross for facilitating the evacuation. "The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time." Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are believed to remain inside the Azovstal plant, and Ukraine is working to rescue them, too, Maliar said. "Mariupol's defenders have fully accomplished all missions assigned by the command."

Ukrainian forces have completed their "combat mission" in Mariupol and have been ordered "to save the lives of their personnel," Ukraine's military command said Monday. Thanks to their weeks of holding on in Mariupol among heavy shelling and worsening conditions, "we got the critically needed time to build reserves, regroup forces, and get help from partners," while Russia was unable to deploy "up to 17 battalion tactical groups to other directions," the military chiefs said. "Mariupol defenders are heroes of our time."

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