Russia said its army seized control of Mariupol on Friday, in the country’s biggest Ukraine war victory yet.
The last group of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks plant surrendered after a nearly three-month siege killed thousands and left the port city in shambles, according to Russia’s defense ministry.
“Underground structures of Azovstal where militants were hiding are now under full control of Russian armed forces,” the ministry said in a statement, noting that 2,439 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin “complete liberation” of the plant — the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance and the city itself.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine Friday.
The steel mill had been blasted for weeks by Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire as the number of Ukrainian holdout fighters dwindled.
Russia’s declaration of victory in the city came hours after Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky said the holdout fighters were ordered by his military to get out of the plant and save their lives.
The complete takeover of Mariupol gives Putin a much-needed military victory in a months-long conflict that was supposed to have been a lightning-fast win for the Kremlin.
Russia’s military has instead failed to take the capital of Kyiv and pulled back forces to refocus on eastern Ukraine.
Military analysts said the city’s capture now holds largely symbolic significance since Mariupol was already effectively under Moscow’s control and most Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting there have already left.
Russia previously said that more than 900 Ukrainian troops at the besieged steel plant were sent to a prison colony on Russian-controlled territory.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the combatants would be treated under international norms for prisoners of war, though several senior Russian politicians demanded they be put on trial.
The Kremlin has wanted to control Mariupol to complete a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
It also wanted to free up troops to join the larger battle for control of the Donbas and take the vital seaport.
Mariupol had suffered through some of the war’s worst fallout — becoming a worldwide symbol of defiance. Its prewar population of 450,000 had plunged to 100,000 and many people were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the West moved to pour billions more in aid into Ukraine as fighting raged in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
Russian forces also shelled a vital highway and kept up attacks on a key city in the Luhansk region, hitting a school among other sites, Ukrainian authorities said.
With Post Wires