Russia claimed Friday that its troops “completely liberated the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol”, the last mainstay of the Ukrainian resistance in the otherwise Russian-occupied southern city.
DailyExpertNews cannot independently verify that all Ukrainian troops have left the steel plant.
Ukraine has yet to confirm Russia’s claims, which, if true, would mean a symbolic military victory for Moscow.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Siege of Mariupol: The strategically important port city was one of the first to come under Russian attack after the invasion of Moscow began on February 24. By early March, it was surrounded by Russian troops, leaving the residents with dire shortages of food and water — and constant bombardment that hit a maternity hospital and a theater sheltering civilians.
The plant: By mid-April, most of the last Ukrainian defenders were fighting to keep Russian troops back from the Azovstal steel mill — which had also become a shelter for as many as 1,000 civilians, including some seriously injured who were stranded without medical care.
In late April, Russia claimed it had achieved the “liberation” of Mariupol – which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied, saying soldiers are still resisting in the city.
Evacuation Attempts: The evacuations of civilians from Azovstal began on May 1. On May 16, the Ukrainian army said its troops had completed their “combat mission” at the steel plant, with hundreds of soldiers evacuated from the facility.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the factory were taken to pre-trial detention while the seriously injured received medical treatment, Russia’s defense ministry said.
Ukraine said it expects an exchange of Russian POWs for the seriously injured soldiers.
The situation on site: If true, Russia’s claim on Friday would indicate that the entire city of Mariupol has fallen into Russian control after nearly three months of brutal fighting.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the “last group of 531 militants surrendered” at the factory. Earlier, the Ukrainian commander of the Azov regiment had issued an order for soldiers to maintain their “life and health … city.”
Videos posted online show the remaining Azov fighters leaving the steel mill. DailyExpertNews cannot independently verify the number of fighters still in the factory.
Russian Profits: If confirmed, the fall of the Azovstal steel plant will mean that Russian forces will have full control of Mariupol, paving the way for them to establish a land corridor between Russia and the annexed Crimea territory.
The symbolic victory would also secure an important port on the Sea of Azov for Russia and release Russian troops to fight on the front lines of the war in the Donbas region.