Updated: Sat, 21 May 2022 03:10 PM IST
Moscow | Jagran News Desk: In what would be its biggest victory yet in the war with Ukraine, Russia claimed to have captured Mariupol after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the strategic port city to a smoking ruin, with over 20,000 civilians feared dead. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin about the “complete liberation” of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance — and the city as a whole.
"The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant has been completely liberated," the ministry said in a statement, adding that 2,439 defenders had surrendered in the past few days, including 531 in the final group. After capturing Mariupol, Russia has moved nearer to control over Ukraine's Donbas region.
⚡ The day has come: Mariupol and the Azovstal' steel plant are completely liberated by the Allied Forces of Russia, DPR & LPR.— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) May 20, 2022
The last group of the Azov battalion Neo-Nazis and Ukrainian servicemen surrendered - over 2400 militants laid down arms. pic.twitter.com/KWuhzAub7r
Russia also launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the province of Luhansk, one of two southeastern Ukrainian provinces Moscow proclaims as independent states. "The Russian army has started very intensive destruction of the town of Sievierodonetsk, the intensity of shelling doubled, they are shelling residential quarters, destroying house by house," Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said on his Telegram channel.
Capturing Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, much of which make up Ukraine's industrial Donbas region would allow Moscow to claim a victory after announcing last month that this was now its objective. Despite losing ground elsewhere in recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced on the Luhansk front.
Ukraine's general staff said it had pushed back an offensive on Sievierodonetsk, part of what it described as major Russian operations along a stretch of the front line. In Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the "liberation of the Luhansk People's Republic" would be over soon.
The end of the Mariupol siege was an important symbolic moment for Russia, after a series of setbacks since the invasion began on Feb. 24, but it came at the cost of massive destruction. Zelenskiy said the region had been "completely destroyed" by Russia and proposed a formal deal with the country's allies to secure Russian compensation for the damage its forces had caused.
Russian forces in Ukraine have been driven in recent weeks from the area surrounding Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, their fastest retreat since being forced out of the north and the Kyiv region at the end of March. But they still control a large swathe of the south and east, and the end of fighting in Mariupol means that that territory is now largely unbroken.
The past week has also seen Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO. After weeks of threatening to retaliate, Putin said this week Finnish or Swedish NATO membership did not represent a threat unless the alliance sent new weapons or troops.
(With Agencies Inputs)