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Russia says Siege of Azovstal is over, video shows defenders surrendering

Russia says Siege of Azovstal is over, video shows defenders surrendering

(Reuters) – The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that the last group of Ukrainian troops holed up in the Azovstal steel plants in Mariupol had surrendered, marking the end of a weeks-long offensive that devastated the city.

The complete abandonment of bunkers and tunnels at the plant bombed by the Azov Regiment means an end to the most devastating siege of the war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly three months ago.

“The lands of the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant … have been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement. It added that the group that surrendered consisted of 531 people.

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A Department of Defense video purporting to show the surrender showed a group of unarmed men approaching Russian soldiers outside the factory and giving their names. Then the Russians carefully searched each man and their possessions, and seemed to ask the defenders to show their tattoos.

Moscow calls the Azov Battalion “Nazis”. The unit, formed in 2014 as a militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, denies being fascist, and Ukraine says it has been reformed from its radical nationalist origins.

“The secret facilities of the project, where the militants are hiding, are under the full control of the Russian armed forces,” the Russian statement said, adding that 2,439 defenders had surrendered in the past few days.

It added that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Mariupol and the steel plant had been completely liberated.

Ukraine ordered the army garrison to withdraw on Monday. Hours before the Russian announcement, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Ukrainian military had told defenders they could get out and save their lives.

Kyiv calls the defenders heroes, saying their hard-line stance helped constrain Russian forces and allow Ukraine to succeed elsewhere on the battlefield.

Zelensky said the Ukrainian air force tried to transport supplies to Mariupol, but was defeated and suffered heavy losses.

“Unfortunately, too many of our pilots were killed,” he told Ukrainian television. “They were absolutely heroic people and they knew that it was almost impossible to fly there, to fly to Azovstal with medicine, food, water and bring back the dead and wounded.”

Anton Gerichenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said that the defense of the plant will be taught in military schools for years to come. He said those inside had no clean water, had only enough food for one meal a day, and almost no medical supplies.

“Do you understand what it means to amputate a limb without anesthetic? What you see in Hollywood horror films is nothing compared to what the defenders of Azovstal saw and endured,” he told Ukrainian television before the Russian announcement.

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(David Leungren reports). Editing by Grant McCall and Rosalba O’Brien

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