KYIV, Ukraine –
Efforts were underway on Tuesday to rescue the last defenders inside the Azovstal steel plant in the ruined city of Mariupol after Ukrainian officials said the warplanes had “completed their mission.” ” and there is no way to liberate the factory by military means.
Ukraine’s military avoids using the term “surrender” to describe its attempt to pull out of the steel mill in order to save as many lives as possible. Officials planned to continue trying to save an unspecified number of fighters that remained. It is not clear if soldiers evacuated to Russian-controlled areas are considered prisoners of war.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said more than 260 fighter jets, some of them seriously injured, were evacuated from the factory on Monday and taken to areas controlled by Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “The work to bring these people home continues, requiring ingenuity and time.
He said the evacuation to separatist-controlled territory was made to save fighters who had endured weeks of Russian attack in the maze of underground passageways below the factory.
“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. That is our principle,” he said.
Russian forces are hitting targets in the industrial heart of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, and the death toll continues to rise as the fighting enters its 12th week.
Ukraine achieved a symbolic gain when its forces allegedly pushed back Russian troops to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region. The video shows Ukrainian soldiers carrying a pole resembling a Ukrainian blue and yellow striped border marker and then posing next to it.
Ukraine’s border service said the video showed soldiers arriving from the border “in the Kharkiv region”, but would not elaborate, for security reasons. The exact location could not be verified immediately.
Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers, saying in a video message: “I am very grateful to all those who fight like you.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azovstal factory to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. Another 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor. She said that an exchange would be made for them to return home.
Before the start of the evacuation, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the factory for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists.
After nightfall on Monday, several buses left the steel plant with Russian military vehicles. Maliar confirmed the evacuation had taken place.
She said the “guardians of Mariupol” had fulfilled all their duties, and were unable to “stop Azovstal by military means.”
Maliar said: “The defenders of Mariupol have completed all the tasks assigned to them by their commanders.
The commander of Regiment Azov, the command unit guarding the plant, said in a pre-recorded video released on Monday that the regiment’s mission ended with as many lives saved as possible.
“Absolutely safe plans and operations do not exist in war,” said Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said that elsewhere in the Donbas, east of the city of Sievierdonetsk, there was heavy shelling that left at least 10 people dead. In the Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in the shelling.
The city of Lviv, western Ukraine, was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions accompanied by distant explosions. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which is under an overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was lit by an orange glow.
The chairman of the Lviv Regional Military Administration said that the Russians had opened fire on military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The city of Yavoriv is about 15 km from the Polish border.
Ukraine’s border guards say they have also thwarted a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops into the Sumy region, about 146 kilometers northwest of Kharkiv.
Russia has been plagued by defeats in the war, most notably its early failure to capture the capital, Kyiv. Much of the fighting has turned to the Donbas but has also become a tagline, with both sides fighting village by village.
A senior US defense official said strike forces from the US and other countries helped Kyiv hold out or gain ground against Russia. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military’s assessment, said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces within 1 to 4 kilometers of Russia’s border but could not confirm whether they had gone all the way. gender or not.
In another setback for Moscow, Sweden decided to become a NATO member following a similar decision by neighboring Finland. It was a historic shift for nations, which had remained unchanged for generations.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period. She urged her compatriots to brace themselves for misinformation or other attempts to divide them.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, has opposed allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, saying they do not take a “clear” stance against the Kurdish fighters and their allies. another group that Ankara considers a terrorist, while imposing military sanctions on Turkey.
All 30 existing NATO members must agree to let their Nordic neighbors join.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had “no problem” with Sweden or Finland when it applied to join NATO, but “the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will of course lead to a reaction”. our response”.
Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in what he said was an attempt to check NATO expansion but has found that strategy backfired. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the process of becoming a member of both could be quick.
McQuillan and Yuras Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odesa and other AP staff members around the world contributed.
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