In Battered Mariupol, Surrender at Last

1K holdout fighters have surrendered at steel plant; unclear if more remain inside
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 19, 2022 12:44 AM CDT
Russia: 1K Ukrainian Soldiers Have Surrendered in Mariupol
A resident walks past a destroyed house in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.   (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

(Newser) – The battle that turned Mariupol into a worldwide symbol of defiance and suffering drew toward a close as Russia said Wednesday that nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who held out inside a pulverized steel plant had surrendered, the AP reports. The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

Amnesty International said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the fighters. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty's deputy director for the region, cited lawless executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said the Azovstal defenders “must not meet the same fate.” It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point. A separatist leader in the region said no top commanders had emerged from the steelworks. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian troops have abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday.

The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol. Its fall would make Mariupol the biggest Ukrainian city to be taken by Moscow's forces, giving a boost to Putin in a war where many of his plans have gone awry. Military analysts, though, said the city's capture at this point would hold more symbolic importance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow's control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting have already left. Meanwhile, in a sign of normalcy returning to Kyiv, the US Embassy reopened on Wednesday, one month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed. Also Wednesday, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty; some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.

(Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)

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