May 20, 2022 3:00pm
Updated: May 20, 2022 5:36pm
The Russian Ministry of Defense on Friday announced the surrender of the Ukrainian garrison defending the Azovstal Steel Works, the last holdout to Russian occupation of the critical port city.
"Underground structures of Azovstal where militants hid came under full control of Russian armed forces," the ministry announced. With the capture of the facility also came the surrender of 2,439 combatants, including militants and Ukrainian servicemen, Moscow asserted.
"The so-called 'commander' of 'Azov' was taken out in a special armored car because of the hatred of Mariupol residents and the desire for reprisals against him," the ministry continued. The "Azov Battalion," a group of militants that rose to prominence in the Donbas conflict that preceded the Russian invasion, has faced investigation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over alleged war crimes during the eight-year conflict.
Captured soldiers are likely to face harsh treatment from the Russian forces as the Azov militants' alleged actions have been part of Russia's pretext for the invasion of Ukraine and Moscow's efforts to "de-Nazify" the country. Russian officials have previously asserted that Azov members should not be eligible for prisoner swaps, according to the Guardian.
The steelworks stood alone for nearly a month following the Russian capture of the rest of the city in a brutal campaign that saw many civilian deaths. Putin declared "success" in Mariupol in late April, though the garrison held out for weeks longer.
Mariupol's fall will free up Russian troops committed to the long siege for operations in other areas. The Ukrainian General Staff announced earlier on Friday that Russian troops had launched a string of offensives in the contested Donbas region.