Both Kiev and Moscow have confirmed the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steel plant, following critical hours on Monday when a regime of silence had been imposed for the humanitarian corridor to be used.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on Monday the evacuation of his country’s nationalist fighters from Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks, suggesting “severely wounded” men were among evacuees in need of medical attendance
'Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive, this is our principle, I think that every reasonable person will understand these words' Zelensky told the nation
A regime of silence had been observed on both sides during the evacuation but Kiev officials later said wounded men were exchanged for captured Russian soldiers.
“We maintain hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Zelensky said in a nightly address to his nation.
Russian defense officials announced also on Monday that a humanitarian corridor was being opened following an agreement to evacuate wounded Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steel plant.
"As a result of talks with representatives of the Ukrainian troops that have been blocked at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, an agreement was reached on May 16 to evacuate the wounded," the ministry said.
In early May groups of dozens of unarmed civilians left Azovstal after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited both Moscow and Kiev to coordinate evacuations from the sheltered underground.
Nationalist fighters from the Azov battalion as well as foreign mercenaries believed to be holed up under desperate conditions were not allowed to leave previously as negotiations were still ongoing for militants.
Moscow had been calling on Kiev to order troops in Azovstal to surrender while reports said Zelensky was seeking international support to get the men out on different terms.
It was still not clear how many fighters had remained in Azovstal, while military experts previously speculated anywhere between a few hundred to a thousand.
Kiev officials said a total of 53 injured servicemen were evacuated to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol, while a further 211 were taken to Yelenovka, both in territory controlled by Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine.
In his televised address Zelensky also said the “work continues to bring the boys home,” adding the situation was a delicate matter than needed time.
“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every reasonable person will understand these words," Zelensky said.
Kiev did not describe the operation as a "surrender."