More than 250 Ukrainian fighters surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and Kyiv said on Tuesday it had ordered its full garrison to evacuate, bringing an apparent end to the bloodiest battle in Europe for decades.
Reuters saw buses leave the steelworks overnight and five of them arrive in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said the wounded would be treated. In one, marked with the Latin letter 'Z' that symbolizes Russia's assault, wounded men were stacked on stretchers three bunks high. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the huge steelworks, important details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside, and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed.
Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a briefing that Kyiv would not disclose how many fighters were inside the plant until all were safe.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards."The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement."The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel."
In a television address, President Volodymyr Zelensky said: "Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive."
Russian defence ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant in daylight, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered", including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.