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Russia declares final victory at steel plant in Mariupol and fights for more territory in eastern Ukraine

Patrick J. McDonnell, Henry Chu and Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

KYIV, Ukraine — With full control of the steel plant that transfixed the world for month and a tightened grip on Ukraine’s southern coast, Russia redoubled its assault Friday on the eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas.

In the vicinity of Severodonetsk — the region’s easternmost city still in Ukrainian hands — at least a dozen people were killed and scores of homes destroyed, the regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, reported on social media.

The nearby city of Lysychansk also came under sustained fire, according to Ukrainian military officials, who said their troops had repelled a series of attacks in the Donbas over the last 24 hours, destroying 14 armored vehicles and shooting down a Russian drone.

And about 120 miles west in the Kharkiv region, a Russian missile destroyed the newly renovated Palace of Culture in the city of Lozova.

Russian military authorities also made their biggest victory of the war official on Friday, announcing that their forces in the southern port city of Mariupol had “completely liberated” the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, where thousands of Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down for more than two months in a brutal standoff.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said that all Ukrainian fighters had been removed from the underground bunkers of the factory, according to Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

 

The last group of 531 Ukrainian soldiers at the steel factory surrendered Friday, bringing the total evacuated since Monday to 2,439, according to the ministry.

There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine. This week, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that it had registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Azovstal.

Experts at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said the discrepancy could be because of reporting delays. But they also raised the possibility that Russian officials intentionally overstated the number of evacuated Ukrainian fighters — either to maximize the number of Russian prisoners of war they can bring home in an exchange or to avoid the embarrassment of admitting they were locked in a lengthy stalemate with only hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers.

Earlier Friday, Maj. Denys Prokopenko, the Ukrainian commander of the Azov regiment that led the defense of Mariupol, posted a video statement saying that senior military leadership had issued an order to stop defending the city in order to save the “lives and health” of servicemen.

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