Ukraine’s deputy defense minister says more than 260 fighters, some of them seriously wounded, have been evacuated from the Hulking Azovstal plant on Monday and taken to Russian-controlled areas. Authorities plan to continue trying to rescue the unknown number of fighters behind.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “the work of bringing boys home is continuing and requires precision and time.”
Moscow suffered another diplomatic blow in the war, with some defenders being removed as Sweden decided to seek NATO membership with Finland. And Ukraine gained a symbolic advantage when its forces in the Kharkiv region reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border.
Nevertheless, Russian forces fired on targets in the industrial center of eastern Ukraine, known as Donbass, and the death toll continued to rise as the war entered its 12th week on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malir said 53 seriously wounded fighters had been taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novosibirsk, east of Mariupol. An additional 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka via a humanitarian corridor. He said an exchange would be made for their return to the country.
Zelensky said the evacuation to the separatist-controlled area was done to save the lives of fighters who had endured weeks of Russian attacks in a maze of underground passages beneath the plant. Medical aid is being provided to “a lot of the injured,” he said.
“Ukraine needs heroes to survive. That is our policy, “he said.
Before the evictions began, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement to leave the mill to treat the wounded in a city controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. There was no immediate word on whether the wounded would be treated as prisoners of war.
After landing Monday night, several buses, including Russian military vehicles, moved away from the steel mill. Malia later confirmed that he had been removed.
Malir said the “Mariupol guards” had done all their work and that it was “impossible to block Azvastal by military means.”
“The defenders of Mariupol have completed all the missions assigned by the command,” he said.
Ukrainian General Staff added on Facebook that Mariupol Garrison had completed his mission. The commander of the Azov Regiment, who led the defense of the plant, said in a pre-recorded video message released on Monday that the regiment’s mission was over and as many lives had been saved as possible.
“Absolutely safe planning and operations do not exist during the war,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Denis Prokopenko.
Elsewhere in Donbass, the eastern city of Severdonetsk was hit by heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, Sergei Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said. Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kirilenko said on Facebook that nine civilians had been killed in the shootings.
The western Ukrainian city of Lviv was shaken by a massive explosion early Tuesday morning. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions with distant booms. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which was under an overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was bright orange.
The chairman of the Lviv regional military administration said the Russians fired on military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The town of Yavoriv is 10 miles (about 15 kilometers) from the Polish border.
In recent days, as Russian forces have withdrawn from the area around the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian troops have also advanced. Zelensky thanked the troops who pushed them to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region, saying in a video message: “I am extremely grateful to all the fighters like you.”
In the video, Ukrainian soldiers carry a post that looks like a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker. They then placed it on the ground while a dozen soldiers posed beside it, one of which had a bullet belt over its shoulder.
Ukraine’s border service said the video, shown by soldiers, was from the “Kharkiv region” border, but could not be reached for comment, citing security concerns. The exact location could not be immediately verified.
Ukraine’s border guards say they have also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and revival troops to the Sumi region, about 90 miles (146 kilometers) northwest of Kharkiv.
Russia has been plagued by war, most notably its failure to take over Kiev’s capital. Most of the fighting has shifted to Donbass but that too has become a slogan, with both sides fighting in villages.
A senior U.S. defense official said the Howitzers of the United States and other countries had helped Kiev gain a foothold or gain a foothold against Russia. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on condition of anonymity, said Ukraine had pushed Russian forces within 2.5 miles (1 to 4 kilometers) of the Russian border. At the border
Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership follows a similar decision by neighboring Finland in the county’s historic transformation, which has been inconsistent for generations.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson has said her country will remain in a “safe haven” at the time of the appeal and called on her colleagues to prepare themselves for any confusion or other attempt to divide them.
NATO member Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has objected to allowing Sweden and Finland to join NATO, saying they have failed to take a “clear” stand against Kurdish militants and other groups Ankara considers terrorists and has imposed further military sanctions on Turkey.
NATO’s current 30 members must agree to join the Nordic neighbors.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow has “no problem” with Sweden or Finland because they have applied for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will certainly provoke our reaction.”
On February 24, Putin launched an offensive that he said was an attempt to stem NATO expansion, but that strategy has backfired. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the membership process for both could be accelerated.