Russia said yesterday that 265 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered after staging a last stand at the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, prompting Kyiv to call for a prisoner exchange.
Moscow claimed control of the strategic port city last month after a weeks-long siege, but hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers remained holed up in tunnels beneath the huge Azovstal industrial zone.
“Over the past 24 hours, 265 militants laid down their arms and surrendered, including 51 heavily wounded,” the Russian defence ministry said.
Publishing images showing wounded soldiers being carried on stretchers, it said the injured were taken to a hospital in the eastern Donetsk region controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.
Ukraine’s defence ministry confirmed the soldiers had left Azovstal, expressing hope for an “exchange procedure... to repatriate these Ukrainian heroes as quickly as possible”.
For those remaining in the warren of tunnels underneath the steelworks, it said it was doing “everything necessary for their rescue” — although a military intervention was not possible. In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not answer questions about whether the Azovstal soldiers would be treated as war criminals or prisoners of war.
President Vladimir Putin “guaranteed that they would be treated according to the relevant international laws,” he said. The International Criminal Court said yesterday it was deploying its largest-ever field team to Ukraine, comprising 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff.
Ukraine’s army said holding the steelworks had delayed the transfer of 20,000 Russian troops to other parts of the country and stopped Moscow from quickly capturing the southern city of Zaporizhzhia.
“Eighty-three days of Mariupol defence will go down in history as the Thermopylae of the 21st century,” presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said, referring to the last stand by the Spartans against the Persians in 480 BC. Ukrainian forces have managed to fight the huge Russian army for longer than many expected, fortified by weapons and cash from Western allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday during a telephone call that arms deliveries from Paris would “increase in intensity” in the coming weeks.
Zelensky said the two leaders also discussed fuel supplies to Ukraine, ways to export Ukrainian agricultural products and Kyiv’s application to join the European Union, which Macron has said could take decades.
After circling the capital Kyiv in the early weeks of the war, Moscow has focused increasingly on the eastern region of Donbas.
Ukrainian officials say Russian troops are withdrawing from around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, to be redeployed there. But Kyiv’s gains have come at a high cost, with villages gutted and destroyed by bombs.
Russia’s attempt to completely encircle Severodonetsk has been repelled, with Ukrainian forces blowing up railway bridges to slow their advance.
But Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday has said it was being shelled “without stopping” and two buildings at the city’s general hospital had been hit overnight. “We have 10 dead and three wounded in the region,” he wrote on Telegram.
Elsewhere, eight people were killed and 12 injured in Russian strikes on the village of Desna, in northeastern Chernigiv region, where a Ukrainian military base is located, emergency services said.
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