Ukraine News: Ukraine steps up efforts to save steel mill’s last fighters

Ukrainian fighters who fiercely defended a steel mill in the devastated port city of Mariupol have completed their mission, Ukrainian officials said, and efforts were underway to rescue the last defenders left inside.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said more than 260 fighters, some seriously injured, were evacuated from the massive Azovstal factory on Monday and taken to areas under Russian control. Officials planned to continue trying to rescue an unknown number of fighters who remained behind.

“The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The evacuation of some of the defenders came as Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback in the war, with Sweden joining Finland in deciding to seek NATO membership. And Ukraine made a symbolic gain when its forces reportedly pushed back Russian troops at the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.

Still, Russian forces have pounded targets in eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as Donbas, and the death toll has steadily risen as the war is set to enter its 12th week. Wednesday.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 seriously injured fighters were taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. A further 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor. She said an exchange would be worked out for their return home.

Zelenskyy said the evacuation to separatist-controlled territory was done to save the lives of fighters who endured weeks of Russian assaults in the maze of underground passages beneath the plant. He said the “seriously injured” were receiving medical aid.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to live. This is our principle,” he said.

Before the evacuations began, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the mill for treatment in a city held by pro-Moscow separatists. It was not immediately clear whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.

After dark on Monday, several buses drove away from the steel plant accompanied by Russian military vehicles. Maliar later confirmed that the evacuation had taken place.

Maliar said that the “defenders of Mariupol” had fulfilled all their tasks and that it was impossible to “unblock Azovstal by military means”.

“The defenders of Mariupol have fully accomplished all the missions assigned by the command,” she said.

The Ukrainian General Staff also declared on Facebook that the Mariupol garrison had completed its mission. The commander of the Azov regiment, which led the defense of the plant, said in a pre-recorded video message released on Monday that the regiment’s mission was over, with as many lives saved as possible.

“Absolutely safe plans and operations do not exist during war,” said Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko.

Elsewhere in Donbass, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk region governor. In the Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians had been killed in shelling.

The city of Lviv in western Ukraine was rocked by heavy explosions on Tuesday morning. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions accompanied by distant booms. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which was under overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was lit with an orange glow.

The chairman of the Lviv regional military administration said that the Russians fired at military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The city of Yavoriv is less than 10 miles (about 15 kilometers) from the Polish border.

Ukrainian troops also advanced as Russian forces retreated from the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers who allegedly pushed them to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region, saying in a video message: “I am very grateful to all fighters like you.”

Russo-Ukrainian War: Derhachi mayor says Uragan rocket strike destroys aid center near Kharkiv

Three days after being hit by Russian strikes, firefighters were still extinguishing what was left of a fire at a cultural center in the village of Derhachi, north of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. The building had been transformed into a distribution point and was completely destroyed by the strikes. Vyacheslav Zadorenko, the mayor of Derhachi, said the town was bombed several times and the aid distribution center was later hit by an Uragan rocket which caused the three-storey building to collapse completely.

The video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a pole that looked like a Ukrainian border post with blue and yellow stripes. Then they put it on the ground while a dozen soldiers posed beside it, including one with belts of bullets draped over his shoulder.

The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers came from the border “in the Kharkiv region”, but did not give details, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.

Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops to the Sumy region, about 146 kilometers northwest of Kharkiv.

Russia was plagued with setbacks in the war, the most glaring being its early failure to take the capital of kyiv. Much of the fighting has shifted to Donbass but has also turned into a drag, with both sides fighting village by village.

Howitzers from the United States and other countries helped kyiv resist or gain ground against Russia, a senior US defense official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment, said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces within half a mile to 2.5 miles (1 to 4 kilometers) from the Russian border, but could not confirm if it was all the way. at the border.

Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership followed a similar move by neighboring Finland in a historic shift for the counties, which hadn’t been aligned for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the candidacy period and urged her fellow citizens to be prepared for misinformation or other attempts to divide them.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO member, has opposed Sweden and Finland joining NATO, saying they have not taken a ‘clear’ position against militants Kurds and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and imposed military sanctions on Turkey.

NATO’s current 30 members must agree to let northern neighbors join.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow “has no problem” with Sweden or Finland applying for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will bring good sure our reaction in response”.

Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in what he said was an effort to curb NATO expansion, but saw that strategy backfire. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the membership process for both could be quick.

Christi C. Elwood