Ukraine's Defense Ministry says 264 defenders evacuated from Mariupol's Azovstal to occupied territories

17 May, 12:00 PM
Transportation of the wounded defender of Mariupol in Novoazovsk, Donetsk region, May 16, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Transportation of the wounded defender of Mariupol in Novoazovsk, Donetsk region, May 16, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Some 264 defenders of the Azovstal steelworks, in the port city of Mariupol, have been evacuated to the temporarily occupied territories in Donbas, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on May 16.

She mentioned that 53 seriously wounded defenders had earlier been taken to a healthcare facility in the occupied town of Novoazovsk for treatment, while another 211 had been evacuated to the occupied village of Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.

Later, the Ukrainian soldiers will be returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory as part of a prisoner swap.

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Malyar added that the Ukrainian authorities are doing everything possible to save the rest of Azovstal's fighters.

Ukraine's General Staff, in a Facebook post, stressed that the commanders of units stationed in Azovstal had received an order from the top military leadership to save the lives of their personnel.

"The defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” reads the report.

“They are forever memorialized in history.”

The surviving defenders of Mariupol consist of the Azov battalion, the 12th Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, the border guards, police officers, volunteers, and the territorial defense units of Mariupol.

By holding their positions at Azovstal, (the defenders of Mariupol) did not allow the enemy to transfer groups of up to 17 battalion tactical groups (about 20,000 personnel) to other areas,” the General Staff noted.

“This prevented the implementation of the (Russian) plan to quickly capture Zaporizhzhya, advance to the administrative border of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya oblasts, and create conditions for the encirclement of the Joint Forces Operation group."

The General Staff added that the defenders of Mariupol had given the Ukrainian army a chance to prepare and create defensive lines to repel the aggressor.

In an evening video address on May 16, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that thanks to the efforts of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Ukrainian intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, there is hope that the lives of Mariupol defenders, including the seriously wounded, will be saved.

"… They are provided with assistance,” the president said.

“I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs its Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think every adequate person will understand these words. The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol has begun…The work is underway to bring our guys home, but it needs a soft touch, and time."

More than 1,000 Ukrainian defenders have been fighting the Russian invaders in Mariupol, a destroyed port city mostly occupied by Russia. For months, they have been calling the world to help evacuate civilians and their wounded comrades.

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