Ukrainian fighters leave Mariupol steel plant

The battle for Mariupol appears to be over, after hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers on Tuesday surrendered from their final holdout. The city has suffered one of Europe’s bloodiest battles since World War II. And now, Russia appears to hold the entire Ukrainian port city, its largest gain of the war. Nick Schifrin has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The battle for the city of Mariupol appears to be over, after hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers surrendered from their final holdout.

    The city has suffered one of Europe's bloodiest battles since World War II. And now Russia appears to hold the entire Ukrainian port, its largest gain of the war.

    Nick Schifrin has the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukrainian soldiers wounded, but alive, and in the custody of their enemy.

    Russian TV showed its version of what appears to be the beginning of the end of the siege of Mariupol, a lonely procession of the wounded, some of the final Ukrainian holdouts from the Azovstal steel plant, what Russia today called a mass surrender.

    Ukraine admits more than 260 soldiers are being bused to Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine. Some today arrived in the separatist-controlled Olenivka, on the site of a former penal colony known for torture and squalid conditions.

    They held out for nearly three months, living and fighting from tunnels designed to withstand nuclear attacks, many of them in the Azov regiment, born from a right-wing militia now integrated into the Ukrainian military.

    Their resistance prevented Russia from consolidating its gains. And, today, Ukrainian officials called them heroes.

    Mykhailo Podolyak, Adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (through translator): Mariupol drew in the Russian Federations forces for 82 days. Their operation to seize the east and south was held up. It changed the course of the war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    An unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers remain in the plant, but Ukraine today said their mission is no longer to fight.

    Today, in Kyiv, those soldiers families, begged for their release, even into Russian custody.

    Natalia, Wife of Fighter Remaining in Mariupol (through translator): They are trying everything to get them out. We try ourselves to help them in any way possible.

    Kateryna, Wife of Fighter Remaining in Mariupol (through translator): They eat once a day. We hope for extraction. This is what we're fighting for. I don't see another way out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The city of Mariupol is a city in ruins. Ukrainian officials estimate a brutal 10-week siege killed 20,000 civilians and destroyed 90 percent of the city. The WHO warns it could now face outbreaks of cholera.

    The only videos of the city today heavily curated by pro-Russian separatist occupiers. Ukraine says residents are forced to work in exchange for food. But Russia's control of the city appears to complete its objectives in Southeast Ukraine. Before the invasion, Russian separatists controlled territory up to a dozen miles east of Mariupol. Today, Russian forces have seized a 500-mile strip along the southern coast, giving Russia a land bridge corridor to Crimea annexed in 2014.

    Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan (ret.), U.S. Army: This gives Russia a corridor of land that — over which it can resupply and access Crimea, its forces in Crimea, its people in Crimea.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Kevin Ryan is a retired U.S. army brigadier general who served as a defense attaché in Russia. He is now senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center.

    What's the significance of Russia being able to claim that it has seized all of Mariupol, including the plant?

  • Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan (ret.):

    Domestically, for Putin, this is important for himself politically to be able to show that he has achieved a victory.

    Once the forces that are engaged and taking Mariupol are finished with their mission, those Russian forces can be directed elsewhere. They could go to the southwest and present a threat to Odessa, or they could be used to move up into the eastern part of Ukraine and to help completely occupy the Donbass region.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the Donbass, Russian shells continue to devastate residential neighborhoods, like in Bakhmut today, the top of an apartment complex ripped off and gutted, among the wounded, a little boy whom first responders fought to save.

    Ukrainian soldiers are fighting back with recently arrived American howitzers. Ukrainian officials say these weapons will allow them to launch counterattacks. But it's not easy to evict Russian forces from territory they occupy.

  • Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan (ret.):

    The size of the Ukrainian military vs. the size of the Russian military just simply doesn't seem to suggest that they could kick the Russian forces out of the land that Russia already occupies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And now that includes Mariupol. Its final defenders are today at the mercy of the Russian military.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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