Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters defending the last holdout in Mariupol are being evacuated to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists and officials are working to get the rest out, signaling the beginning of the end of a siege that became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Russia calls the operation a mass surrender, while the Ukrainians avoid using that word — but say the garrison has completed its mission.
More than 260 fighters — some severely wounded — were pulled from a steel plant yesterday that is the last redoubt of Ukrainian fighters in the city and were transported to two towns controlled by separatists, officials on both sides say.
Other fighters — their precise numbers unknown — remain inside the Azovstal steelworks that sprawl over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles) in a city otherwise controlled by Russian forces.
The complete capture of the plant would mark a significant milestone. It would give Russia its biggest victory of the war yet and could help free up forces for offensive action elsewhere in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine that is now Russian forces.