Moscow says about 700 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered to Russian-controlled Mariupol because it has made significant gains in the south, while the United States has become the latest Western country to reopen its embassy in Kiev.
Ukraine has ordered its garrison to stand in Mariupol, but the final outcome of Europe’s bloodiest war for decades remains unresolved.
The top commanders of Ukrainian fighters who made their last stop on the Azovostal steelworks in the port city are still inside the plant, local news agency DNA reported Wednesday, quoting Denis Pushlin, a leader of the pro-Russian separatists who control the area.
Ukrainian officials have declined to comment publicly on the fate of the fighters.
“The state is doing its utmost to rescue our service personnel,” military spokesman Alexander Motuzaynik told a news conference. “Any information to the public could jeopardize that process.”
Ukraine on Tuesday confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters, but did not say how many more were inside.
Russia said on Wednesday that 694 more fighters had surrendered, bringing the total to 959. Its defense ministry has posted a video of Ukrainian fighters being treated at a hospital after surrendering to Azovstal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in the talks, Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boichenko said, without elaborating.
Mariupol is the largest city occupied by Russia to date and has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in the offensive that began on February 24.
Moscow has focused on the southeast in recent attacks since withdrawing from Kyiv, where, as another sign of normalization, the United States says it resumed operations at its embassy on Wednesday.
“The Ukrainian people … have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unprovoked attack, and as a result, the stars and stripes are flying over the embassy again,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Daniel Langenkamp, a spokesman for the embassy, said a small number of diplomats would return to the mission’s staff initially, but consular activities would not resume immediately.
Canada, Britain and others have recently reopened their embassies.
Ukraine’s resistance to Russian-occupied territory continues. The southern Ukrainian city of Melitopole says its fighters used an explosive device to detonate an armored train carrying Russian troops.
Reuters could not independently verify the details. Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moscow has said it is engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm and “exclude” its neighbors. West and Kyiv call it a false pretext for attack.
Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on Wednesday, a decision was made in the wake of the Ukrainian aggression, and Putin cited Ukraine as the reason for the attack, a very kind of expansion.
US Ambassador to NATO Julian Smith called for an accelerated accession process that could be “done in a few months”, but NATO member Turkey said its approval depended on the return of “terrorist” Kurdish militants and followers of Fethullah Gulen.
Both Finland and Sweden were militarily non-aligned during the Cold War.
Although Russia has threatened retaliation against the plan, Putin said on Monday that its alliance with NATO would not be a problem if the alliance did not send more troops or weapons.
Russia, however, could cut off gas supplies to Finland this week, said Gasum, Finland’s state-owned energy supplier.
The European Commission has announced a 210 billion euro ($ 220 billion) plan for Europe to end Russia’s dependence on oil, gas and coal by 2027.
Google, meanwhile, has become the latest major Western company to emerge from Russia, saying its local unit filed for bankruptcy and was forced to close operations after its bank account was seized.
On the battlefield, Russian forces continue their main offensive, trying to occupy more territory in the eastern Donbass region, which Moscow claims is in favor of separatists.
Occupying Mariupol, the main port of Donbass, gave Moscow full control of the Azov Sea and an uninterrupted territory to the east and south of Ukraine.
The governor of the Luhansk region, part of the Donbass, said there had been several attacks.
“Most of today’s shelling took place in Severodonetsk and nearby villages … The Russians are still trying to cut the ‘road to life’ by connecting Lisichansk and Bachmut through the Luhansk region,” Serhiti Gaidai wrote in the Telegram.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)