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, 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. Russian troops should “seal the area so that a fly cannot get through,” Putin ordered.
In its fresh statement, the Defense Ministry pointed out that the offer to surrender to those inside the facility remained in place. “At any given moment, Russia is ready to introduce a ceasefire and announce a humanitarian pause in order to stage the evacuation of civilians (if they’re really staying in the underground structures of the steel plant) and troops of the Ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions.”
The commander of the Ukrainian marines, holed up at the plant, had earlier claimed that “hundreds” of civilians were trapped in there. He didn’t explain why the people would voluntarily decide to hide out together with Ukrainian troops, who are targeted by Russian forces.