Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar has explained why the Ukrainian authorities did not provide details of the operation to evacuate the defenders of Mariupol from the Azovstal plant, and has urged Ukrainians not to believe Russian propaganda.
Ukraine is doing everything possible to save the defenders and heroes of Ukraine who were at Azovstal, Malyar said on Ukrainian national television.
“… I understand that everyone wants to know at least some information, but the rescue operation is underway,” Malyar said.
“That’s the first thing. Secondly, negotiations are underway, because the rescue operation itself has several difficult stages. This process is very sensitive. Any information we announce in public may harm both the process itself and our defenders.”
Commenting on the statements of Russian propagandists proposing to declare the Azov Regiment as a “terrorist organization,” Malyar said this was propaganda for the Russian public:
“Russia has its own political processes, it has its own political groups… Therefore, we must perceive them as political statements made for their propaganda effect and the propaganda goal for Russia's domestic consumption,” Malyar said.
In the evening of May 17, Reuters reported that seven more buses with Ukrainian defenders evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol had arrived in the occupied Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast. According to Ukrainian authorities, the operation to evacuate the defenders of Mariupol continues, without specifying details.
Video of Azovstal evacuation emerges
Evacuation from Azovstal
On the night of May 17, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that 53 seriously injured defenders of Mariupol were taken to a medical center in occupied Novoazovsk for treatment, and another 211 were evacuated to occupied Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor. They will later return to the territory controlled by Ukraine through an exchange procedure.
The commanders of the military units stationed at Azovstal received an order from the top military leadership to save the lives of their personnel, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
Earlier on Monday, the Azov Regiment issued a statement saying that the defenders of Mariupol had complied with the order and hoped for the support of the Ukrainian people.
According to Hanna Malyar, there was no other way to save the soldiers in Azovstal. She said the operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol will continue until they return to territory controlled by Ukraine. Ukraine will exchange 52 seriously injured soldiers from Azovstal when their condition stabilizes, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that the defenders of Mariupol carried out the order, held up a group of 20,000 Russian invaders and prevented them from getting into Zaporizhzhia and further into Donetsk Oblast. He added that after that the soldiers received a new order – to save their own lives.
Ukrainian defenders at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol held their positions under full encirclement, as heavy fighting took place. Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, they have killed 6,000 invaders, Ukraine’s military estimates. Russian forces launched dozens of strikes at Azovstal per day, using aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery.
About 1,000 Ukrainian defenders remained at Azovstal, of whom 600 were injured and 40 were in critical condition. They repeatedly asked for to be evacuated and reported that they were short of food, water, medicine and ammunition.