Ukrainian Steel Mill Fighters Evacuate, Declare Mission Complete

Tuesday saw the start of efforts to free the remaining Ukrainian troops who had been trapped for weeks in the Azovstal Steel plant, a ruined port town of Mariupol. Officials from Ukraine claimed that the Ukrainian fighters “completed their mission”, and it was impossible for the country’s military forces to free the Azovstal steel plant from Russia.

Russia called it a surrender, and there was no doubt that Moscow and its proxy forces in Ukraine were in full control of the strategic southern port city — even if much of it has been razed to the ground.

CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports the fighters held out for 82 days under brutal conditions in the steelworks, becoming a collective symbol of Ukraine’s resistance and Russia’s merciless tactics in the war. Overnight, however, several buses left the plant transporting the injured and bedraggled troops, some in dire need of medical attention.

They were taken under escort by pro-Russian forces to territory held by those rebels, with Ukraine hoping for a prisoner exchange while rescue attempts continued for those still underground.

Buses carrying Ukrainian Azovstal servicemen arrive in Novoazovsk
A wounded Ukrainian service member from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol removed from a bus on a stretcher after being taken under escort of pro-Russian forces to the town of Novoazovsk, Ukraine, May 16, 2022.

ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS


The Ukrainian military avoided using the term “surrender” to describe the effort to pull out of the steel plant, but Russia declared it just that.

“Over the past 24 hours, 265 militants laid down their arms and surrendered, including 51 heavily wounded,” the Russian Ministry of Defense announced in a briefing on Tuesday, saying those in need of medical care were transferred to a hospital in the pro-Russian rebel-held town of Novoazovsk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the evacuation to separatist-controlled territory was done to save the lives of the fighters who endured weeks of Russian assaults in the maze of underground passages below the hulking Azovstal steelworks.

RUSSIANS INVADE UKRAINE -- APRIL 29, 2022:  Maxar satellite imagery closer view of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, Ukraine.   Sequence -- 3 of 12 images.   20apr2022_WV3.  Please use: Satellite image (c) 2022 Maxar Technologies.
Maxar satellite imagery shows the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 29, 2022.

Satellite image (c) 2022 Maxar Technologies via Getty Images


“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. He said that it was our principle. Unknown numbers of fighters were left behind. However, local media reports suggested that more were ready to evacuate into pro-Russian territory.

” The work of bringing the men home is ongoing, which requires patience and delicacy,” Zelenskyy stated.

“Thanks in large part to the defenders at Mariupol, Ukraine was able to regroup its forces and form reserves. They fulfilled their duties. It is not possible to deblock Azovstal using military means.

Russia Ukraine Mariupol Explainer
Servicemen of the militia from the Donetsk People’s Republic walk past damaged apartment buildings near the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, the second-largest metallurgical enterprise in Ukraine, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 16, 2022.

Alexei Alexandrov / AP


The steel mill’s defenders got out as Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback in its war with Ukraine, with Sweden and Finland deciding to seek NATO membership. The Ukrainian forces apparently drove Russian troops to the Russian border at Kharkiv. This was a symbolic victory.

Fighting rages in Donbas, Lviv hit again

Still, Russian forces pounded targets in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, and the death toll, already many thousands, kept climbing with the war set to enter its 12th week on Wednesday.

The eastern city of Sievierdonetsk in Donbas came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. Governor of the Donetsk Region, Mr. Pavlo Kyrylenko stated on Facebook that nine civilians died in the shelling.

Ukraine Political Map

Getty/iStockphoto


The western Ukrainian city of Lviv was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses reported hearing at least eight explosions. Then, there were distant booms and the very distinct smell of burning. The Associated Press team was in Lviv under an overnight curfew and reported that the west sky of Lviv was illuminated by an orange glow.

Russia pushed back from Kharkiv

But Ukrainian troops also advanced as Russian forces pulled back from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to soldiers for pushing them all the distance to the Russian border in Kharkiv.

Video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a post that resembled a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker. They then placed the post on the ground, while twelve soldiers stood next to it with bullet belts over their shoulders.

Ukrainian troops stand at the Ukraine-Russia border in what was said to be the Kharkiv region
Ukrainian troops stand at the Ukraine-Russia border in what was said to be the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in a screengrab obtained from a video released on May 15, 2022 by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/handout/Reuters


“I’m very grateful to you, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on my behalf and on behalf of my family,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. I’m grateful for all fighters like yours. “

The Ukrainian border service stated that the footage of the soldiers was taken from “the Kharkiv area” but did not give any further details due to security concerns. The exact coordinates could not be confirmed immediately.


Russia pushes Russian forces from Kharkiv.

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CBS News’ Patta and her team visited the town of Derhachi on Tuesday, which is about as close as the Russian ground forces got to Kharkiv — less than a mile away from Ukraine’s second city.

Despite their retreat they still can inflict severe damage. CBS News reported that two times in the last week, a cultural center which was used to distribute humanitarian aid had been struck. Four villages nearby are still under Russian rule. The situation is critical.

” They are “liberating us” from Nazis,” Patta said, laughing at Vladimir Putin’s justification for war in Ukraine. But in fact, they are ‘liberating’ us from our peaceful lives. “

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv
Ukrainian service members ride on top of an armored vehicle amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 16, 2022.

RICARDO MORAES/REUTERS


That peace was still very much under threat on Tuesday. Patta, along with her team, heard the shelling all morning. This is evidence that, while Russia may have been defeated in the end, its forces were not able to hold on.

Russia’s war has seen many setbacks, the most notable being its inability to seize the capital Kyiv. The fighting is now centered in the Donbas, but it has also become a grind as both sides fight village by village.

Finland and Sweden’s NATO bid

Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership followed a similar decision by neighboring Finland in a historic shift for the counties, which were non-aligned for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her fellow citizens to brace themselves. She stated that

“Russia had said it would take countermeasures to join NATO. We cannot exclude the possibility that Sweden could be disinformationed and intimidated by attempts to divide and conquer us. “


Sen. Mitch McConnell and the GOP delegation welcomed Finland’s application to NATO

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But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, ratcheted up his objection to their joining. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Turkey and the other NATO members of not taking a clear stance against Kurdish terrorists. He also accused them of imposing military sanctions.

He stated that the Finnish and Swedish officials expected to visit Turkey next week shouldn’t bother coming if they want to persuade Turkey to drop its objection.

“How are we to trust them? Erdogan was asked this question at a news conference that was jointly held with the Algerian president.

All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Moscow does not have any problem with Sweden and Finland when they apply to NATO membership. However, he said that the expansion of NATO’s military infrastructure on this territory would lead to a response. “

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24 in what he said was an effort to check NATO’s expansion but has seen that strategy backfire. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that both countries could join in a short time.

Europe also wants to stop funding the Kremlin’s war through reducing its dependence on Russian energy imports. Some countries that depend on Russian imports are opposed to the EU embargo, such as Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic. There are also reservations about Bulgaria.

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