Hero Ukrainians declare ‘mission accomplished’ as they are finally evacuated from Mariupol steelworks after 82 days

HERO Ukrainians who defended Mariupol’s steelworks for an incredible 82 days were finally evacuated yesterday — and declared “mission accomplished”.

The bloodied but unbowed Azov Regiment held off the Russian army, air force and navy in an awe-inspiring stand.


Russian servicemen frisk Ukrainian servicemen as they are being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in MariupolCredit: EPA
A wounded service member of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol is transported on a stretcher


A wounded service member of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol is transported on a stretcherCredit: Reuters
Ukrainian service members are searched by pro-Russian military personnel after leaving the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol


Ukrainian service members are searched by pro-Russian military personnel after leaving the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s port city of MariupolCredit: AFP

Their historic defence could yet decide the outcome of the conflict after buying comrades vital time to regroup, train and stockpile weapons from abroad.

The first batch of 264 fighters — including 53 seriously wounded — remained defiant as they were bussed out of their warren of bunkers in the Azovstal steel plant.

A firestorm of Russian bombs, missiles and bullets had to virtually level the once-prosperous southern port to winkle them out.

Analysts said the siege was effectively over, leaving the city in Russian hands. But an undisclosed number of Azov Regiment warriors stayed in bunkers inside the plant.

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And it was unclear whether the remaining fighters may yet stage a last stand and fight to the death in seven miles of bomb-proof tunnels.

A dozen buses ferried the wounded to the Russian-backed rebel-held town of Novoazovsk, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said. The rest were evacuated by a humanitarian corridor to Olenivka — also in the hands of Putin henchmen from the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Azov commander Denys Prokopenko said in a video message that his men “carried out the order” and achieved their goal of holding back the Russian advance.

He said the entire Mariupol garrison will now be evacuated.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky saluted the heroic defenders — dubbed “Spartans” — and pledged to help save the remaining fighters.

Grim-faced in a TV address, Zelensky spoke of his “difficult day” as it was finally decided to call a halt to the steelworks stand.

He said: “We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys. There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”

Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said: “The evil created by Russia in Mariupol is even worse than Nazi Germany.

“In the Second World War, 10,000 people were killed in Mariupol in a two-year occupation. In two months of this blood-shedding war, Russia has killed more than 20,000.

“Putin is a bigger evil than Hitler and we must stop him.”

Russia said a prisoner swap deal had been cut to pave the way for the wounded troops’ surrender — but Putin cronies demanded the agreement be scrapped hours later.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the Speaker in Russia’s Duma, raged: “These are war criminals and we must do everything to bring them to justice.”

Efforts to extract the last of the exhausted and starving defenders were continuing last night, brokered by UN and Red Cross officials.

Sources said the diehards underground included deputy commander Captain Svyatoslav Palamar — call sign “Kalina” — who told The Sun before the evacuation: “We are tired, but we are not broken.”

Captain Palamar, 39, spoke hours before Russian forces launched a blizzard of phosphorous bombs to incinerate the remains of the plant.

He said: “We’ve orders to hold the line. No one has given us any other orders. Our kill count here at Azovstal is somewhere around 2,500 dead Russians, about 5,000 wounded.”

The Azov defence will go down in military history after its textbook battle plan was executed to near perfection. Defenders held back up to 17 of Russia’s battalion tactical groups, totalling about 20,000 troops, and stopped them moving on to take more territory.

The fall of Mariupol now extends Russia’s corridor along Ukraine’s southern coast from ­Donbas.

Putin — reported to have taken personal control of his forces — may now attempt to move on Odesa.

But analysts question whether he has the firepower after seeing 12 battalions decimated. Putin is now believed to be determined to grab full control of the Luhansk region by capturing the sister cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

But the Ukrainian resistance — backed by weapons from the US and UK — is said to be forcing Russia to downsize its ambitions.

Zelensky said Russians were fleeing second city Kharkiv and being transferred to Donbas in the East. Russian commanders were increasingly resorting to long-range shelling, bombing and missiles after ground offences were thwarted.

Ukraine accused Russia of using indiscriminate cluster munitions in southern city Mykolaiv.

And officials confirmed a military site “almost on the border with Poland” had been hit by missiles.

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Meanwhile a Putin cheerleader crowed on Russian TV that Britain should be bombed back to the Stone Age “in ten minutes” with hypersonic missiles. Anchor Vladimir Solovyov said Russia should use Zircon weapons and wipe out 50 or 60 power stations to plunge the UK into darkness.

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