After 82 days of defending Mariupol, the Ukrainian troops holding out at Mariupol’s Azovstal Iron and Steelworks Plant have been evacuated to safety. It was reported that some 260 Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated, signaling the potential end of the Battle of Mariupol and the start of the Russian occupation of the bombarded city.
According to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, 211 soldiers were evacuated and transported to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor, and 53 others were transported to a hospital in Novoazovsk, a Russian-controlled city.
“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained critically important time,” Mailiar stated. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.”
While it is not yet officially announced that Mariupol has fallen, the city is expected to fall to Russian control if evacuations continue and if the Russians are successful in bombing the Ukrainians. It is believed that some 600 to 1,000 troops were inside the steel plant, so there are definitely more Ukrainian marines still in the combat zone.
SOFREP had previously reported that the Azov Regiment, one of the units defending the steel plant, vowed that they would never surrender and never give up as long as they were alive. The Azov is a volunteer militia rather than a regular army unit and there is some question over how much control the government has over this unit.
“We will always fight, as long as we are alive, for justice,” Azov Deputy Commander Captain Sviatoslav “Kalina” Palamar said. “We don’t have much time; we are coming under intense shelling.”
“Surrender is not an option because Russia is not interested in our lives,” Azov Regiment intelligence officer Ilya Samoilenko said.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly expressed his admiration and concern for their fighters defending Ukrainian-held territory in Mariupol, he also expressed that he wanted these “Ukrainian heroes” alive and bring them home to their families.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” he said. “A difficult day. But this day, like all others, is aimed at saving our country & our people. I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”
This is one of the reasons why the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that the soldiers defending the Azovstal steel plant had already accomplished their mission and that it was time to evacuate.
“The Higher Military Command was ordered to commanders of units based on Azovstal to save the lives of personnel,” they said on their Facebook post.
“The evacuation of 53 seriously wounded soldiers has begun. They were delivered to a medical institution in Novoazovsk. Another 211 defenders through the humanitarian corridor were evacuated to Olenívka with further return of them to the controlled Ukrainian territory through the exchange procedure,” they added.
#UPDATE Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steelworks — the last holdout of troops defending the southern port city of Mariupol — Kyiv sayshttps://t.co/VavClGzeyj pic.twitter.com/X2jdCc5fq7
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 17, 2022
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also mentioned the units defending the Azovstal steel plant to honor them.
“Mariupol defenders are heroes of our time. They are forever in history,” they emphasized. This is a separate squad of Azov, 12th Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine, 36th separate marine brigade, border guards, police officers, volunteers, territorial defense forces Mariupol.
According to them, these units who have defended Mariupol were instrumental in delaying the Russian advances of some 17 battalion tactical groups comprised of some 20,000 personnel—specifically, hindering the capture of Zaporizhzhia and other such areas nearby.
“Forging the enemy’s core forces around Mariupol has given us the opportunity to prepare and create the defensive frontiers on which our troops are still present today and give a decent counterpoint to the aggressor. We got the critically needed time to build reserves, regroup forces, and get help from partners.”
In response, the Azov regiment, a far-right nationalist unit of the Ukrainian national guard, has decided to comply with their superiors despite wanting to fight on, admittedly with low food supplies and low ammo.
“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the supreme military command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” they said.
The decimated city of Mariupol was once a symbol of Russian aggression in Ukraine, with it being the center of international news due to the Mariupol drama theater bombing where civilians had been taking shelter against Russian shelling and the bombing of multiple Mariupol hospitals. Notably, these are the incidents where Russia had been accused of committing war crimes aside from those in Bucha, where mass killings and torture have been allegedly committed by the Russian forces.
Today, the city of Mariupol, specifically the Azovstal steel plant, is seen by Ukrainians as a symbol of Ukrainian willpower of resistance and bravery of the troops stationed within it. There is no doubt that the Ukrainian people will honor those who have been fighting in the city after the war ends. Currently, the Ukrainian fighters are enjoying widespread support in their country, with murals and paintings spread throughout Ukraine in a show of support.