- Ukraine said Monday it was evacuating all troops from its last residence in the city of Mariupol.
- Thought Ukraine was actually giving up the area, it got a huge price for it from Russia.
- Thousands of well-armed Russian troops took much longer than expected to gain the upper hand, one analyst said.
Russia’s capture of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, after weeks of fierce Ukrainian resistance, cost too much money, according to Ukrainian officials and experts.
When Russian forces began to take over the city last month, a group of Ukrainian fighters, namely the Azov Battalion, withdrew to fight from basement tunnels beneath the steel mill.
At one point, Russian forces were preparing to storm the steel mill, but President Vladimir Putin canceled the attack on April 21 and instead called for a blockade “so not even a fly can get through”.
In the end it worked. After weeks of enduring attacks by Russian troops, the Ukrainian military announced on Monday that it would evacuate the troops that had “performed their combat duty”.
Although the Ukrainian military did not use the word, the move effectively surrendered the factory to Russia and gave them full control of Mariupol.
An analyst told Insider that the Ukrainians far outperformed expectations, “by holding out for many weeks longer than was thought feasible”.
While it was basically a blow to Ukraine, analysts said Ukraine forced Russia to pay a disproportionately high price for the city, which was largely reduced to rubble in the attacks.
In its statement, the Ukrainian army said that Russia had to deploy 20,000 troops to the steel plants, which were then unable to attack other targets in Ukraine.
“Forging the enemy’s nuclear forces around Mariupol has given us the opportunity to prepare and create the defensive borders where our forces are still present today and provide a decent counterbalance to the aggressor,” it said.
“We have been given much-needed time to build up reserves, regroup troops and get help from partners.”
Keir Giles, a senior consultant for the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, agreed.
“It was clearly important for Russia to continue harassing the defenders in the Azovstal complex, long after they were surrounded and cut off from any possible relief effort, rather than waiting and starving them,” he told Insider.
“This is one of the many spectacular feats of the defenders, who not only held out for many weeks longer than was deemed feasible, but in the process of tying up Russian troops disproportionate to the complex’s military value.” thereby making the task of Ukrainian defenders in the rest of the country easier.”
“The length of the siege and the resources Russia has pledged to it only underscore the extent to which the political motives for the Russian offensive run counter to military common sense,” he added.
British intelligence suggested on April 18 that Russian commanders would be outraged at the slow progress of their troops in Mariupol. It eventually took a month longer to take the city.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted tuesday: “83 days of Mariupol defense will go down in history as the Thermopylae of the twenty-first century”, a reference to the legendary battle in which 300 Spartans stopped a huge Persian army before being killed.
Podolyak continued: “‘Azovstal’ defenders ruined [Russia’s] plan to eastern [Ukraine]took on themselves and proved the true ‘combat capability’ of [Russia] … This completely changed the course of the war.”
Ukraine’s defense ministry said 53 of the troops evacuated as of Monday were “seriously injured” and another 200 had been evacuated to the Russian-controlled city of Olenivka. Russia’s defense ministry said Monday it had approved the rescue mission.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Tuesday that Ukraine wants to exchange Russian prisoners with troops rescued from Azovstal. Zelenskyy said in a Telegram message on Tuesday: “We hope that we can save the lives of our boys. Among them are the seriously injured, they are receiving medical attention. I want to emphasize: Ukraine has Ukrainian heroes alive.”
Mariupol became a critical target for Russia after Putin’s decision to redirect Russian attacks from Kiev to the pro-Kremlin Donbas region.
Controlling it gives them uninterrupted land access between mainland Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.
However, Russia has struggled to achieve its goals in the Donbas and continues to face stiff opposition from Ukrainian forces.
A critical target that Ukraine has managed to capture in recent days is the city of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city in the north of the country.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Saturday that Russian troops are now withdrawing from the city, an important concession from Moscow.
Giles, the analysts told Insider, “The personnel crisis Russia is going through, and the difficulty in making progress on the front lines, is due in an elusive amount to not taking Mariupol weeks before they did.”