Russia declared victory in a months-long struggle for Mariupol’s Azovstal steel mill, bringing it one step closer to gaining control of Ukraine’s Donbas area, and blocked gas deliveries to Finland, escalating an energy payment conflict with Western nations.
Russia also appeared to undertake a significant offensive to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the southeastern Donbas region, and where Russian-backed rebels already controlled large swaths of territory before to the Feb. 24 invasion.
The final Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s shattered Azovstal steelworks surrendered on Friday, according to Russia’s military ministry, bringing the war’s worst siege to a conclusion.
‘The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical facility… has been totally liberated,’ the ministry stated in a statement, adding that 2,439 defenders had surrendered in the previous several days, 531 of them were in the final group.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated that Ukraine’s military had informed the final defenders at the steelworks that they could escape and save their lives. The Ukrainians did not immediately corroborate the Azovstal figures.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces did not respond to Russia’s claim.
The end of battle in Mariupol, Russia’s largest city so far and the primary port for the Donbas, provides Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare win in invasion after nearly three months of fighting.
Putin claims that Russian troops are carrying out a ‘special military operation’ to demilitarise Ukraine and cleanse it of extremist anti-Russian nationalists. Western countries refer to it as an unjustified aggression war.
Russia now has complete control of the Sea of Azov as well as an uninterrupted stretch of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The Red Cross said it has registered hundreds of Ukrainians who had surrendered at the Mariupol steel mill as prisoners of war, and Kyiv has stated its desire for a prisoner swap. Although Moscow claims that the captives will be handled humanely, Russian leaders have been quoted as urging that some of them should be tried or even executed.
Thousands of people have been slain in Ukraine, and cities have been destroyed. Almost a third of Ukrainians have fled their homes, with over 6 million leaving the nation.