Russian forces have taken full control of the steel plant in Mariupol that was the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city, Moscow’s defence minister said.
The seizure marks the end of a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of Mariupol to ruins and left more than 20,000 people feared dead.
Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have been “completely liberated” from Ukrainian fighters.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the defence ministry as saying that a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters holed up at Azovstal have laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16, including 531 on Friday.
However, Ukrainian authorities said their troops have repelled a separate Russian attack in the east.
The Donbas is now President Vladimir Putin’s focus after his troops failed to take the capital Kyiv in the early days of the war.
Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the region and held a considerable swathe of it before Russia’s invasion on February 24.
But the effort to take more territory there has been slow-going. In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, the UK Ministry of Defence said.
Russian forces attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, both in the Luhansk region of the Donbas, the region’s governor said on Friday.
Twelve people were killed, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region, said Serhiy Haidai in a Telegram post.
But the attack on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful. Both Mr Haidai and Ukraine’s General Staff of the military said Russia took losses and retreated.
Still, Russia’s struggles in the east only seemed to translate into an intensifying offensive that is inflicting increasing suffering.
“It is hell there, and that’s not an exaggeration,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the campaign.
“The brutal and completely senseless bombardment of Severodonetsk. Twelve dead and dozens wounded there in just one day,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.
Meanwhile, in the first war crimes trial held by Ukraine, Sgt Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a Russian tank unit, told a court in Kyiv on Thursday that he shot Oleksandr Shelipov, a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, in the head on orders from an officer.
Shishimarin apologised to the victim’s widow, Kateryna Shelipova, who described seeing her husband being shot just outside their home in the early days of Russia’s invasion.
She told the court that she believes Shishimarin deserves a life sentence, the maximum possible, but that she would not mind if he were exchanged as part of a swap for the Azovstal defenders.
Ukraine’s surprisingly stiff resistance has been bolstered by western arms and funding – and more help was on the way this week.
The G7 has agreed to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s public finances, bringing the total aid to 19.8 billion dollars, Germany’s finance minister said. The goal is to ensure that Ukraine’s financial situation does not affect its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.
Also, more US aid appeared to be on its way to Ukraine when the Senate overwhelmingly approved a 40 billion dollar package of military and economic aid for the country and its allies. The house of representatives voted for it last week, and US President Joe Biden’s quick signature is certain.
“Help is on the way, really significant help. Help that could make sure that the Ukrainians are victorious,” senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said.