Ukrainians showed their mettle Saturday, successfully completing an operation to evacuate civilians from a steel plant amid a bombardment from Russian invaders.
“The president’s order has been carried out: All women, children, and the elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal. This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation has been completed,” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, per CNBC.
The status of the Ukrainian troops who had been forced into tunnels within the plant, as well as the civilian men, is unclear. Civilians and troops had been trapped in the plant for weeks as Russian forces battled to gain control of the city, which would give them access to valuable ports on the Azov Sea.
After the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross brokered civilian evacuations from the plant, the effort began last weekend but was stymied by revived fighting. Earlier this week, the city’s mayor estimated that as many as 200 civilians remained inside the plant, Reuters reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed victory over Mariupol on April 21 and demanded the Ukrainian fighters to disarm, but they remained in the plant in defiance. Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the plant have refused to surrender to the Russian invaders, prompting the diplomatic efforts to rescue the fighters.
The Russians carried out another assault on the plant Saturday in an attempt to defeat the last of the city’s defenders. Fears have been growing that the Kremlin will attempt to wipe out the fighters by Monday, the day Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II.
Tens of thousands of people have died, and millions of Ukrainians have been displaced since the outset of the war in February.