Russia says besieged Ukrainian troops can surrender

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Russia says besieged Ukrainian troops can surrender

Moscow says that besieged Ukrainian fighters can exit the Azovstal steel plant at any time without weapons and ammo.

Ukrainian troops and members of the nationalist Azov battalion, who remain besieged in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, can still surrender to the Russian military, the Defense Ministry said on Friday.

A day earlier in the day, Russia announced the capture of Mariupol, with President Vladimir Putin calling off the assault on Azovstal, which remains the last holdout of the Ukrainian forces in the strategic port city. Putin ordered Russian troops to seal the area so that a fly can't get through.

The Defense Ministry pointed out that the offer to surrender to those inside the facility remained in place. Russia is ready to initiate a ceasefire and announce a humanitarian pause in order to evacuate civilians from the underground structures of the steel plant and troops of the Ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions at any given moment. The commander of the Ukrainian marines, holed up at the plant, had earlier claimed hundreds of civilians were trapped in there. He didn't explain why the people would voluntarily hide out with Ukrainian troops who are targeted by Russian forces.

To surrender, Ukrainian fighters and foreign mercenaries need to raise white flags along the perimeter of Azovstal. The humanitarian offer by Russia remains in force 24-7, according to the statement.

The lives of those who lay down their arms are guaranteed to be spared, and they will also be provided with medical assistance - just like the Ukrainian combatants who chose to stop resisting earlier, the Russian side insisted.

The humanitarian corridors organized by the Russian forces in Mariupol have allowed the evacuation of 143,631 Ukrainian civilians, 341 foreign citizens and 1,844 Ukrainian servicemen, according to the ministry.

It added that the figures show that Russia is unwilling to give necessary conditions for combatants to surrender or hampering civilian evacuation is proof of that, according to Ukraine and the West.

The 2,000 fighters that are holed up at the Azovstal steelworks have been given several opportunities to lay down their arms in recent days, but they have refrained from using them, according to Russia's estimates.

Intercepted communications from the steel plant indicate that Ukrainian troops and nationalist battalion fighters are short on food and water. They are eager to surrender but can't do so without an order from Kiev over fears of being court-martialed.

Ukrainian authorities have so far been reticent to give such a command. On Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that there was still a military way to unblock Mariupol, but added that it would require the help of our partners, apparently referring to Kiev's backers in the West.

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, after Ukraine failed to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements first signed in 2014, and Moscow s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive was unprovoked and has denied that it was planning to retake the two republics by force.