"We need our heroes alive" - Azov fighters evacuated to Russia-controlled territories
Azov fighters were evacuated to Russia-controlled territories
More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers, 53 of them seriously wounded, were evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on the evening of May 16 after 82 days of resistance since the beginning of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
Dozens of buses transported them to Russian-controlled Novoazovsk (Donetsk region) and Olenevka (Crimea). The Ukrainian authorities declare their intention to return them home by exchanging them for Russian prisoners. There has been no confirmation of this from the Russian side yet.
The plant was the last bastion in the defense of an important port city. Now Mariupol, which has become a symbol of courage for the whole world and was almost completely destroyed after almost three months of bombing and siege, is completely under the control of the Russian army.
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It is unclear whether some Ukrainian fighters still remain in the Azovstal bunkers and tunnels built deep underground during the Soviet era to resist nuclear war.
Until now, it was believed that about 600 military men were holding the defense at the plant. All civilians hiding there, several hundred people, were evacuated through humanitarian corridors in May.
The wife of one of the soldiers of the Azov regiment, Natalya Zaritskaya, speaking to reporters a few hours before the start of the evacuation, described the situation at the plant as follows:
“They are in hell. Every day they get new wounds. Many are left without legs and arms, they are emaciated, they have no medicines”.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military, intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys. Among them are seriously injured, they are being receiving medical assistance.
Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol has been launched by our military and intelligence to bring the guys home, the work continues, and this work requires a careful approach – and time”.
Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar stressed that the soldiers in Mariupol “completed all the tasks set by the command in full”:
By holding Azovstal, they prevented Russia from quickly capturing the southern city of Zaporozhye and provided Ukraine with critical time to build up reserves, regroup forces, and acquire Western weaponry.
Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to liberate Azovstal by military means. The most important common task for all of Ukraine and the whole world is to save the lives of the defenders of Mariupol”, Maliar said.
Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Battalion, confirmed in a video message that “in order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the high military command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people”.
The Azov Regiment was originally a militia formed to fight the Russian military after the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the creation of the LPR and DPR separatist entities.
In the past, Azov was associated with far-right nationalists, but completely disassociated itself from this ideology later and became a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard.
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Situation in Ukraine so far
● The main battles are taking place in the east of the country, in the Donbass.
● Ukraine said troops defending its second-largest city of Kharkiv pushed back Russian forces and advanced to the Russian border.
● On March 16, a series of explosions took place in Lviv, in western Ukraine. Lviv mayor said that not a single strike reached the target, all were repulsed by air defense.
● Since Moscow is not going to give up almost three months after the start of the military invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden have decided to abandon their policy of military non-alignment and declared their desire to join NATO.
● However, the future of this issue is still unclear, as Turkey has declared its disagreement with the accession of Finland and Sweden. It accused the countries of harboring and supporting organizations of Kurdish militants declared terrorist in Turkey.