Ukraine has declared the completion of its 'combat mission' in Mariupol, according to the country's military.
It's been nearly three months since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his 'special military operation' by invading Ukraine, plunging the country into bloody warfare that's taken the lives of thousands, troops and citizens alike.
Mariupol, the besieged port city in the south of the country, has been a focal point during the conflict, coming after the bombing of a maternity and children's hospital, immense evacuation efforts and the holdout in the Azovstal steelworks plant.
Now, commanders of units stationed at the plant have been ordered 'to save the lives of their personnel', according to a statement by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as per CNN.
Hundreds of people have since been evacuated from the plant, however some people still remain.
In a video statement, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said: "Fifty-three seriously injured people were evacuated from Azovstal to a medical facility in Novoazovsk for medical care.
"Another 211 people were taken to Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor."
Incredible image from inside the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol. https://t.co/aRVlLKqB1V— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) May 16, 2022
There'll be an 'exchange procedure' to ensure the evacuees get back home, Malyar said, also praising the 'defenders of Mariupol' for giving the country 'critical time to form reserves, regroup forces and receive assistance from partners'.
She continued: "Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to unblock Azovstal by military means."
In its own statement, the Azov Battalion also said: "In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people.
"The defenders of Mariupol fulfilled the order, despite all the difficulties, and distracted the overwhelming forces of the enemy for 82 days."
In his most recent video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the Ukrainian military and expressed hopes 'that we will be able to save the lives of our guys... among them are the seriously wounded, they are being provided with medical aid'.
He said: "The 82nd day of our defence is coming to an end. A difficult day. But this day, like all others, is aimed precisely at saving our country and our people.
"I want to emphasise: Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words.
"The operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol was started by our military and intelligence officers. To bring the boys home, the work continues, and this work needs delicacy. And time."
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