Russia Claims All Ukrainian Troops Out Of Steelworks In Mariupol
By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service May 20, 2022
Russian troops are in full control of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and all Ukrainian fighters that had been holed up there have surrendered, the Russian Defense Ministry says, as Moscow intensifies its assault on eastern Ukraine.
"The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant...has been completely liberated," the ministry said in a statement on May 20.
It said 531 people were in the group that gave up most recently and that brought to 2,439 the total number of defenders who had surrendered in the past few days.
The full abandonment of the bunkers and tunnels of the plant brings an end to most destructive siege of the war that started nearly three months ago.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said earlier that the Azovstal defenders got a clear signal from military command that they could get out and save their lives.
Russia had sought control of Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, to complete a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and to free up troops to join the battle for control of the Donbas region.
Russia has intensified its assault on the region, relentlessly pounding it into what Zelenskiy says now resembles "hell."
After more than 12 weeks of fighting since Moscow launched its invasion, Ukrainian authorities said that "massive" artillery barrages by Russian forces continued to target civilian infrastructure, including residential districts.
Zelenskiy on May 20 sharply criticized one of those attacks, which struck a Ukrainian cultural center in the Kharkiv region.
Kharkiv regional Governor Oleg Sinegubov said eight people had been wounded, including an 11-year-old girl. A local health official had earlier put the number of wounded at seven.
Zelenskiy released a video on social media showing a large explosion hitting the newly renovated Palace of Culture in Lozova. The building was partly destroyed, and the roof caught fire, Ukraine's emergency services reported.
"The occupiers identified culture, education, and humanity as their enemies," Zelenskiy said. "What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity."
Sinegubov said there was no doubt the Russian forces targeted the cultural center, adding on Telegram that two of three missiles fired had been intercepted and the blaze that broke out at the center had been extinguished.
British intelligence on May 20 noted in its daily report on the situation in Ukraine that after securing the strategic Sea of Azov port following a monthslong siege that turned the city into ruins and killed thousands of civilians, Moscow is likely to redeploy troops to aid in the offensive in the east.
Those soldiers who left Azovstal, including those who were wounded, were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is registering the hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who left the Azovstal plant in Mariupol as prisoners of war (POWs).
The ICRC says the registration of the fighters as POWs was "critical to ensure they're accounted for & treated humanely and with dignity" and allows the organization to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.
Kyiv has expressed hope that the fighters will be exchanged for Russian prisoners, but separatist authorities in the eastern Donetsk region suggested some of them could be put on trial.
In southeastern Ukraine, an estimated 1,000 vehicles carrying Ukrainian civilians were prevented from crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporizhzhya. The regional military administration said on May 20 that cars full of people trying to evacuate were stuck at a Russian checkpoint in the city of Vasylivka.
"In Vasylivka, the occupiers have not allowed more than 1,000 cars to enter the territory controlled by Ukraine for the fourth day in a row," the administration said in a Telegram post, adding that there are women and children in the cars, and that most of them no longer have money for food and water.
In Luhansk, local authorities said on May 20 that indiscriminate Russian bombardment had killed at least 13 civilians over the past 24 hours and caused substantial damage.
Twelve people were killed in the town of Severodonesk, where a Russian assault has been unsuccessful, said the regional governor, Serhiy Hayday. The town and the city of Lysychansk are in an area where Russian troops have launched an offensive.
In Donetsk, "the Russian enemy carried out massive artillery shelling of civilian infrastructure, including multiple-rocket launchers," Ukraine's General Staff said in a statement.
Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office said that as of May 20, 232 children had been killed and 427 wounded since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
In a regular address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had "completely destroyed" Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
"It is hell there -- and that is not an exaggeration," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address, repeating his accusation that Russia is committing genocide, a claim Moscow has denied.
Zelenskiy also said that in the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, the village of Desna was hit with Russian missiles on May 19 and that many were killed. Desna is some 70 kilometers from the border with Belarus.
Zelenskiy spoke on May 19 with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about a range of issues, including financial aid to assist the shattered Ukrainian economy, agricultural exports, and "the evacuation of our heroes from Azovstal."
Shoigu said on May 20 that the "liberation of the Luhansk People's Republic" -- a territory in Ukraine recognized by Russia as independent and controlled by Moscow-backed separatists -- would be completed soon.
The minister also said Russia would beef up its western defenses with troops and 12 additional military bases in response to Sweden and Finland's bid to join NATO.
The two Nordic countries shed their longtime neutrality this week by formally submitting applications to join the alliance, saying the move was necessary because of security concerns sparked by Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC, CNN, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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