1700 Ukrainian soldiers leave Azovstal, Zelensky opens up about heroic pilots who helped them survive for so long

20 May, 10:13 AM
A Ukrainian serviceman pictured on the ruins of Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol (Photo:Dmytro Kozatskiy)

A Ukrainian serviceman pictured on the ruins of Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol (Photo:Dmytro Kozatskiy)

Today, May 20, is the 86th day of Ukraine's defense against a full-scale Russian invasion.

8.44 p.m: Ukrainian defenders at Azovstal managed to last that long thanks to the heroic sacrifice of Ukrainian pilots, who were secretly delivering food and water to the besieged still mill, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with Ukrainian media.

"Unfortunately, a very large number of our pilots died. Absolutely heroic people who knew how difficult it was to fly to Azovstal and bring them medicine, food, and water," Zelensky said.

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The President said that there were no air corridors to the Azovstal plant due to the strong Russian air defense systems in the area.

“Helicopter pilots for many weeks were flying there, knowing that 90% do not return… Imagine what these people did. They flew there to give food, water, and weapons to Azovstal defenders and took away the wounded. We lost many pilots. They are absolutely heroic, "Zelensky stressed.

7.12 p.m: Ukrainian partisans set up a Ukrainian flag over the railway station in Kherson.

"The Ukrainian guerrilla movement does not sleep even in the temporarily occupied cities: the Ukrainian flag flies over the Kherson railway station. Because Kherson is Ukraine. That's how it was, is, and will be," Ukrzaliznytsia state railway operator said in a statement.

7 p.m: Ukrainian sappers have finished demining all the main roads in Kyiv Oblast, Ukrainian President's Office deputy head Kyrylo Tymoshenko has reported.

He also said that the government has returned road lightning.  Overall 1,016 settlements have already been liberated in Kyiv Oblast, and humanitarian headquarters are working there.

6.11 p.m: Russians bombed a newly reconstructed House of Culture in Lozova, a city in Kharkiv Oblast, leaving at least 7 people wounded, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an Instagram post.

"Seven victims, including an 11-year-old child," Zelensky said.  "The occupiers identified culture, education, and humanity as their enemies. What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity."

5.29 p.m: Ukrainian government has ordered Mariupol defenders to stop the defense of Azovstal, Azov regiment commander Denys Prokopenko has said in a video statement. 

"The top military leadership has ordered us to save the life and health of the garrison's defenders. For that, we must stop the city's defenses," Prokopenko said.

Despite heavy fighting, circular defense, and lack of supplies, Ukrainian defenders emphasized three important conditions for them to surrender to the Russians: civilians, wounded soldiers, and dead soldiers must be evacuated and get medical treatment.

2.17 p.m: Russians shelled a school in Severodonetsk, a city in Luhansk Oblast, killing at least three people, local governor Serhiy Hayday said.

According to him, the occupiers struck the school with artillery. More than 200 people with children were in the school shelter at the time.  Three adults died. 

The man of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as of May 20 (Фото: Ukraine War Map)
The man of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as of May 20 / Фото: Ukraine War Map

2.01 p.m: Rubizhe, a city in Luhansk Oblast has become another Mariupol, Luhansk governor Serhiy Hayday said, meaning Rubizhne was also almost destroyed by the Russians before they have managed to take it under control.

"Rubizhne has shared the fate of Mariupol. The industrial city is completely destroyed, there are no surviving buildings, and it is impossible to restore many houses. There are cemeteries in the courtyards," Hayday said.

1.47 p.m: Russians have been blocking Ukrainian civilians, who have been trying to evacuate from the occupied territory,  Kherson governor Hennadiy Lahuta told Interfax Ukraine news agency.

For the fifth day in a row, the occupiers are blocking an evacuation column heading from Berislav and  Davydiv Brid towards Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast," Lahuta said. "This is the only way for people can leave the occupied territory." 

According to Lahuta, the occupiers "did not give any humanitarian" green "corridor for the import of food or medicine and, most importantly, for evacuation of orphanages, boarding schools, evacuation of the elderly, sick people.

The governor said that the Russians have artificially created a difficult situation with the provision of food to the people of the region. The food they import from the temporarily occupied Crimea is in short supply, and they do not allow Ukrainian volunteers to enter the occupied part of Kherson Oblast.

A map shows the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian-controlled territories are in red (Фото: Ukraine war map)
A map shows the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian-controlled territories are in red / Фото: Ukraine war map

Morning Digest

In his late-night address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces continue to advance in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian forces have been trying to counterattack in Kharkiv Oblast, trying to return control over their previous positions, shelling mostly civilian infrastructure, Ukraine's Army General Staff has reported.

The situation in Donbas remains very tough for the Ukrainian army. "It is like hell there," Zelensky said, that some 12 Ukrainian soldiers died in the past day alone in Donbas.

Russian continue offense on Severodonetsk, a city in Luhansk Oblast. 13 civilians were killed and more than 60 buildings were destroyed during the last 24 hours, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai has said in a statement. However, the occupiers have failed to storm the city and had to retreat bearing losses.

At the same time, Ukrainian forces repelled 14 attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. Eight tanks, 14 units of combat armored vehicles, and six units of enemy vehicles were destroyed. Air defense units shot down one Orlan-10 UAV, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Russian forces tried to cut the Bakhmut highway in Donetsk Oblast but failed and had to retreat. Ukrainian forces destroyed more than 40 occupiers on the eastern front during the past day, Ukrainian Operative Command East has reported.

Overall, the Ukrainian army has already eliminated 28,700 Russian soldiers since the start of the full-scale invasion.

The evacuation of Ukrainian defenders from Azovstal, the steel mill that used to be the last Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol for more than 80 days, remains the top focus.

Zelensky has also said he has been doing everything possible to return Ukrainian defenders of Azovstal home safe.

"I am doing my best to keep the most influential international forces informed and, as far as possible, involved in rescuing our military," Zelensky said.

UK Defence Intelligence has reported some 1700 Ukrainian soldiers have already left Azovstal over the past day, but it is unknown how many of them are still left at the factory. 

In an evening video statement on May 19 Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, said that the commanders of the Ukrainian forces are still staying in the factory.  "The operation continues, I can't reveal any details. Hope to see you soon," Palamar said.

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