The commanders of the units stationed at the Azovstal city massive steel plant have been ordered to “save the lives of their personnel,” the statement from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
Hundreds of people were evacuated Monday from the steel plant, the last refuge in a city that had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under relentless Russian bombing.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described the evacuation operation in a separate video statement, noting that some Ukrainian forces remain in Azovstal.
“Fifty-three seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical institution in Novoazovsk for medical care,” she said. “Another 211 people were sent to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor.”
An “exchange procedure” will see the evacuees return home, Malyar also said.
“Ukraine needs living Ukrainian heroes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement on the evacuation on Monday, thanking the Ukrainian military and negotiators, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.
“The 82nd day of our defense is coming to an end. A difficult day. But this day, like all the others, aims precisely at saving our country and our people,” Zelensky said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry had earlier said a ceasefire had been established to allow the passage of wounded Ukrainian servicemen, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting in Ukraine since Russia began its occupation in late February.
Many civilians have already been evacuated. But Ukrainian fighters in the city, in April, had vowed to “fight to the end” despite being surrounded, with scant ammunition and in large numbers by Russian forces.
Russian television network RT on Monday showed videos of about 10 to 12 buses leaving the steel plant. The buses seemed to be a mix of hospital and regular transport, some marked with a red cross.
In her statement, Malyar praised “Mariupol’s defenders” for Ukraine’s gain “critical time to form reserves, regroup forces and receive help from partners”.
“Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to unlock Azovstal by military means,” she said.
The country’s Azov regiment also issued a statement Monday saying “the entire Mariupol garrison” was carrying out orders to save lives.
“To save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the decision approved by the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov Regiment said in a statement late Monday.
“Mariupol’s defenders fulfilled the order, despite all the difficulties, and dispersed the overwhelming forces of the enemy for 82 days.”
CNN’s Olga Voitovych contributed to this report.
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