Russia claims to have control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Here’s why it matters

Russia claimed on Friday that its troops had “completely liberated” the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol – the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the otherwise Russian-occupied southern city.

CNN cannot independently verify that all Ukrainian troops have left the steel mill.

Ukraine has yet to confirm Russia’s claims, which if true would mark a symbolic military victory for Moscow.

Here’s what you need to know:

The headquarters of Mariupol: The strategically important port city was one of the first to come under Russian attack after the invasion of Moscow began on February 24. By early March, it had been surrounded by Russian forces, leaving residents facing severe food and water shortages – and constant shelling that hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were sheltering.

The plant: By mid-April, most of the last Ukrainian defenders were fighting to hold back Russian forces from the Azovstal steelworks – which had also become a haven for as many as 1,000 civilians, some of them seriously injured who were stranded without treatment medical.

In late April, Russia claimed to have secured the “liberation” of Mariupol, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied, saying soldiers were still resisting in the city.

Evacuation attempts: Evacuations of civilians from Azovstal began on May 1. On May 16, the Ukrainian military said its forces had completed their “combat mission” at the steelworks, with hundreds of troops evacuated from the facility.

Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the factory were taken to a pre-trial detention center, while the seriously injured received medical treatment, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Ukraine has said it plans to exchange Russian POWs for seriously injured soldiers.

The situation on the ground: If true, Russia’s claim on Friday would suggest that the entire city of Mariupol has fallen under Russian control after nearly three months of brutal fighting.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that “the last group of 531 militants had surrendered” to the factory. Previously, the Ukrainian commander of the Azov regiment had ordered the soldiers to preserve their “life and health…and to stop defending the city.”

Videos posted online appear to show the remaining Azov fighters exiting the steelworks. CNN cannot independently verify the number of fighters remaining at the factory.

Russian earnings: If confirmed, the fall of the Azovstal steelworks means that Russian forces have full control of Mariupol, opening the way for them to establish a land corridor between Russia and the annexed territory of Crimea.

The symbolic victory would also secure a key port on the Sea of ​​Azov for Russia and free up Russian troops to fight on the front lines of the war in the Donbass region.


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