Russia claims to have taken full control of Mariupol

  • Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus Friday after leaving Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steel plant, near a penal colony in Olyonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine. AP PHOTO

  • Villagers queue to buy cigarettes and bread from a peddler in the village of Staryi Saltiv, east Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. The village formerly occupied by Russian forces is back under Ukrainian control, albeit very close to the front line and under constant shelling. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • The body of a Russian soldier lies inside a henhouse in Vilkhivka, outskirts of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • An unexploded projectile lies on a side street in the town of Vilkhivka, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022.. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • Villagers queue to buy cigarettes and bread from a peddler in the village of Staryi Saltiv, east Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. The village formerly occupied by Russian forces is back under Ukrainian control, albeit very close to the front line and under constant shelling. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • A man pushes his bicycle across a repaired bridge in Vilkhivka, outside Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • A Ukrainian serviceman inspects a school damaged during a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the village of Vilkhivka, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • A crew of self-propelled artillery vehicles 'Gvozdika' ('Carnation') of Donetsk People's Republic militia prepare to fire towards Ukrainian army position, near the town of Yasynuvataya, outside Donetsk, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov) Alexei Alexandrov

  • Used shell casings lie at a position of self-propelled artillery vehicles 'Gvozdika' ('Carnation') of Donetsk People's Republic militia firing towards Ukrainian army position, near the town of Yasynuvataya, outside Donetsk, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov) Alexei Alexandrov

  • Ukrainian soldiers unload a destroyed Russian tank to install it as a symbol of war in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. St Michael cathedral is in the background.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) Efrem Lukatsky

  • A Ukrainian serviceman holds the helmet used by Russian troops inside a school damaged during a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the village of Vilkhivka, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • A Ukrainian serviceman inspects a school damaged during a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the village of Vilkhivka, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

  • An APC of Donetsk People's Republic militia stands not far from Mariupol's besieged Azovstal steel plant, in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, May 19, 2022. (AP Photo)

  • Residents live in the basement of a building used as bomb shelter in the village of Staryi Saltiv, east Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 20, 2022. The village formerly occupied by Russian forces is back under Ukrainian control, albeit very close to the front line and under constant shelling. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

Published: 5/20/2022 9:44:58 PM

POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russia claimed to have captured Mariupol on Friday in what would be its biggest victory yet in its war with Ukraine, after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the strategic port city to a smoking ruin, with over 20,000 civilians feared dead.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin the “complete liberation” of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance — and the city as a whole, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine.

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at the steelworks had surrendered since Monday, including over 500 on Friday.

As they surrendered, the troops were taken prisoner by the Russians, and at least some were taken to a former penal colony. Others were said to be hospitalized.

The defense of the steel mill had been led by Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast its invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russia said the Azov commander was taken away from the plant in an armored vehicle.

Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of the steel mill’s defenders for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals. That has stirred international fears about their fate.

The steelworks, which sprawled across 4 square miles, had been the site of fierce fighting for weeks. The dwindling group of outgunned fighters had held out, drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire, before their government ordered them to abandon the plant’s defense and save themselves.

The complete takeover of Mariupol gives Putin a badly needed victory in the war he began on Feb. 24 — a conflict that was supposed to have been a lightning conquest for the Kremlin but instead has seen the failure to take the capital of Kyiv, a pullback of forces to refocus on eastern Ukraine, and the sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Military analysts said Mariupol’s capture at this point is of mostly symbolic importance, since the city was already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the fighting there had already left.

In other developments Friday, the West moved to pour billions more in aid into Ukraine and fighting raged in the Donbas, the industrial heartland in eastern Ukraine that Putin is bent on capturing.

The Kremlin had sought control of Mariupol to complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to join the larger battle for the Donbas. The city’s loss also deprives Ukraine of a vital seaport.

Mariupol endured some of the worst suffering of the war and became a worldwide symbol of defiance. An estimated 100,000 people remained out a prewar population of 450,000, many trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday the evacuation of his forces from the miles of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal was done to save the lives of the fighters.

While Russia described the troops leaving the steel plant as a mass surrender, the Ukrainians called it a mission fulfilled. They said the fighters had tied down Moscow’s forces and hindered their bid to seize the east.

In other developments Friday:

■ Zelenskyy said Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital and business it destroys. He called on Ukraine’s partners to seize Russian funds and property under their jurisdiction and use them to create a fund to compensate those who suffered.

Russia “would feel the true weight of every missile, every bomb, every shell that it has fired at us,” he said in his nightly video address.

■ The Group of Seven major economies and global financial institutions agreed to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s finances, bringing the total to $19.8 billion. In the U.S., President Joe Biden was expected to sign a $40 billion package of military and economic aid to Ukraine and its allies.

■ Russian lawmakers proposed a bill to lift the age limit of 40 for Russians volunteering for military service. Currently, all Russian men 18 to 27 must undergo a year of service, though many get college deferments and other exemptions.

Heavy fighting was reported Friday in the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking expanse of coal mines and factories.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces shelled the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway from multiple directions, taking aim at the only road for evacuating people and delivering humanitarian supplies.

“The Russians are trying to cut us off from it, to encircle the Luhansk region,” he said via email.

Moscow’s troops have also been trying for weeks to seize Severodonetsk, a key city in the Donbas, and at least 12 people were killed there on Friday, Haidai said. A school that was sheltering more than 200 people, many of them children, was hit, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region, he added.

But he said the Russians took losses in the attack on Severodonetsk and were forced to retreat. His account could not be independently verified.

Another city, Rubizhne, has been “completely destroyed,” Haidai said. “Its fate can be compared to that of Mariupol.”

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McQuillan reported from Lviv. Stashevskyi reported from Kyiv. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


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