Russia says Azovstal siege over, shows video of defenders surrendering

May 20 (Reuters) – The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday the last group of Ukrainian forces holed up in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol had surrendered, marking the end of a week-long attack that left the city in ruins.

The total abandonment of the bunkers and tunnels of the bombed-out factory by the Azov regiment signifies the end of the most destructive siege of a war that began when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly three months ago.

“The territory of the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant (…) has been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement. He said the group that surrendered included 531 people.

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A Defense Ministry video purporting to show the surrender showed a line of unarmed men approaching Russian soldiers outside the factory and giving their names. The Russians then carefully searched each man and their belongings and also appeared to be asking the defenders to show their tattoos.

Moscow calls the Azov regiment “Nazis”. The unit, formed in 2014 as a militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, denies being fascist, and Ukraine says it has been reformed from its radical nationalist origins.

“The company’s underground facilities, where the militants were hiding, have come under the full control of the Russian armed forces,” the Russian statement said, adding that a total of 2,439 defenders had surrendered in recent days.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Mariupol and the steel plant had been fully liberated, he added.

Ukraine ordered the garrison to withdraw on Monday. Hours before the Russian announcement, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the defenders had been told by the Ukrainian military that they could get out and save their lives.

Kyiv calls the defenders heroes, saying their stubborn stance has helped tie down Russian forces and allow Ukraine to succeed elsewhere on the battlefield.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian Air Force attempted to resupply Mariupol by air but was repelled, suffering heavy casualties.

“A very large number of our pilots died, unfortunately,” he told Ukrainian television. “They were absolutely heroic people who knew it was difficult, that flying there was almost impossible, flying to Azovstal with medicine, food, water, and bringing back bodies and wounded .”

Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said factory defense would be taught in military schools for years to come. Those inside had no clean water, just enough food for one meal a day and virtually no medical supplies, he said.

“Do you understand what it is like to amputate a limb without anesthesia? What you see in Hollywood horror movies is nothing compared to what Azovstal defenders have seen and endured,” he told Ukrainian television ahead of the Russian announcement.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien

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