Moscow said an agreement had been reached to evacuate wounded Ukrainian fighters from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, the besieged Ukrainian port town.
“On May 16, as a result of talks with representatives of the Ukrainian military blocked on the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol, an agreement was reached on the removal of the wounded,” Interfax news agency on Monday quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.
Ukrainian officials did not immediately confirm or deny such an agreement with Russian forces, but they signalled an evacuation operation was under way.
Speaking on Ukrainian television, deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar declined to reveal details on the grounds “any information” could “harm processes” that are under way.
“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,” Denys Prokopenko, commander of Ukraine’s Azov battalion, said in a video address shared via Telegram.
“The defenders of Mariupol carried out the order, despite all the difficulties, repelling the overwhelming forces of the enemy for 82 days and allowed the Ukrainian army to regroup, train more personnel and receive a large number of weapons from partner countries,” Prokopenko continued.
Scores of civilians were this month evacuated in a UN and Red Cross operation from Mariupol, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000.
Earlier on Monday, relatives of Ukrainian fighters sheltering in underground catacombs of the Azovstal mill appealed for help to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting in Istanbul. Turkey has repeatedly offered to broker an evacuation from Mariupol and a peace agreement to end Russia’s war against Ukraine.