A Ukrainian commander says soldiers have been told to stop defending themselves as Russian forces reclaim a key port city after an 82-day battle.
Ukraine’s top military leaders have told the last remaining soldiers in the fallen city of Mariupol to cease their defense.
A video shared by Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko from inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol said an order was issued to “preserve the life and health of the garrison soldiers and stop defending the city,” CNN reports.
“Despite heavy fighting…and lack of supplies, we constantly emphasize the three conditions that are most important to us: civilians, wounded and dead. Civilians were evacuated,” he said.
This comes as the besieged city surrendered to Russian forces on May 20 after a bloody 82-day siege. The confrontation in Azovstal was Ukraine’s last stronghold against Russian forces.
In light of the surrender, Lt. Col. Prokopenko said he hoped the wounded fighters would be evacuated to the Ukrainian-occupied territories.
“The seriously injured received the necessary assistance; were evacuated with more exchange and delivery [planned] to territory controlled by Ukraine,” he continued.
“As for the fallen heroes, the process is ongoing. But I hope that in the near future, the families and the whole of Ukraine will be able to bury their soldiers with honors.”
Thought to remain several hundred fighters still in Ukraine’s last stronghold against enemy forces, Moscow has officially declared victory over the steel plant.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is believed to have suggested that his soldiers had seized the Azovstal steel plant and thus completed their takeover of Mariupol, AP News reported.
They said Shoigu had reported the news directly to President Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti said a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered since Monday.
Some of the surrendered soldiers have been taken prisoner, others taken to a former penal colony, and some hospitalized.
The fall of Mariupol also meant that Russia scored one of its biggest victories against Ukraine since its invasion. The battle for the port city is believed to have been based on a strategic move to ensure a land corridor could exist between Donbas, where fierce fighting continues, and the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.
Throughout the Russian invasion of Mariupol, the city has suffered some of the worst shelling and attacks from enemy forces.
From the beginning of the invasion, Moscow pounded the city with artillery and missiles, while trying to cut off electricity, food, water, heating and medical supplies to civilians.
An airstrike on the city’s No 3 Maternity Hospital was also internationally condemned as a war crime and human rights violation, with the bombing killing at least four people and resulting in one stillborn.
As a result of the battle, the entire city rose up, and although the exact figure is unknown, the civilian death toll is estimated to be in the thousands.
In one of the most horrific attacks, another airstrike on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre, which was used as a bomb shelter, is estimated to have killed around 600 civilians.
Originally published as Ukraine issues order to stop defense of Mariupol while Russia takes control