Ukraine has confirmed an operation is underway in agreement with Russian forces to rescue government troops – many injured – from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after nearly three months of heavy shelling that pulverized the city strategic port.
Addressing the nation in the early hours of Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the operation was underway.
“I want to stress that Ukraine needs living Ukrainian heroes,” Zelensky said. “To bring the boys home, the work continues, and it takes delicacy and time.”
The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in a statement on Tuesday that the Mariupol garrison had “fulfilled its combat mission”.
“The Supreme Military Command ordered commanders of units stationed in Azovstal to save the lives of personnel,” the statement added, describing them as “heroes of our times.”
Fighters from the Azov Battalion – a group of volunteers now integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces – and marines fiercely resisted invading Russian troops in the city for nearly three months, the statement said.
“Holding positions in Azovstal, they did not allow the enemy to transfer groups of up to 17 battalion tactical groups (about 20,000 people) to other areas,” the statement added. Staff.
According to the general staff, 53 seriously injured soldiers were transferred to a medical establishment in the neighboring city of Novoazovsk, occupied by Russia. How they would be transferred to Ukrainian-controlled areas was not immediately clear. 211 other fighters were evacuated to another city from where they were to be exchanged during a prisoner exchange, according to the statement from the general staff.
“Rescue measures for defenders remaining in Azovstal territory continue,” the general staff statement added, noting that not all Ukrainian fighters were rescued during the night operation.