For several weeks, the last Ukrainian defenders of the port city of Mariupol have been holed up in the besieged Azovstal plant. Now the first soldiers are said to have left the steelworks – including many seriously injured.

After weeks of blockade, around 260 Ukrainian soldiers have left the Azov steelworks in Mariupol, according to the authorities. Among them were 53 seriously injured, said the Ukrainian general staff on Facebook.

211 other Ukrainian fighters were also brought to the town of Olenivka, which was occupied by Russian troops. They are said to return later in a prisoner exchange. The seriously injured were transported to the city of Novoazovsk. The evacuation of the other defenders of the Azovstal Steelworks is still in progress.

Unable to liberate Asovstal

“Thanks to the Mariupol defenders, we got critically important time to form reserves, redeploy forces and receive help from our partners,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maljar wrote on Facebook. All tasks to defend Mariupol have been completed. It was not possible for Azovstal to fight free. The most important thing now is to save the lives of the Mariupol defenders.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized in his daily video address that Ukraine needs its heroes from Mariupol alive. The port city of Mariupol was surrounded shortly after the Russian invasion in February. Russian troops gradually took control, but the last Ukrainian defenders of the city holed up in the huge steel works with several underground floors.

The Russian troops did not risk any storming attempts, but blocked all accesses. Hundreds of civilians had already been evacuated from the factory premises in the past few days. There were long negotiations about the withdrawal of the soldiers, some of whom were seriously injured, and who had hardly any supplies or water left.