On Wednesday, the Russian defence ministry announced that 1,026 Ukrainian marines, including 162 officers, had surrendered in Mariupol, the besieged Ukrainian port city.
Mariupol, which has been surrounded by Russian troops for weeks, has seen the fiercest fighting and the most extensive destruction since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, Russian television broadcast clips of what it said was the surrender. A video captured unarmed men in military fatigues walking with their hands up along a grassy, tree-lined path towards masked soldiers carrying assault rifles.
In one clip, four marines carried a wounded person on a stretcher away from a damaged industrial building. One of the marines carried a white flag. The wounded were loaded onto a yellow bus.
The unidentified Russian soldier said: “You may be scared or not, but it is necessary to surrender anyway. The choice is not a big one. First, the encircling is tight enough. Second, there are at least five echelons (of troops), so it is not that simple to exit if someone would think that he can easily leave.”
A group of more than a dozen soldiers stood in formation in a dark room; an unidentified prisoner of war said in Russian: “I was in a group of 13 to 15 men who moved together and survived. We had to surrender as we had been encircled.”
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Moscow now focuses its campaign on the Sea of Azov port, which is the biggest target in the eastern Donbas region. It would be the first major city to fall since the war began if captured. Its capture would help secure a land corridor between separatist-held eastern areas and Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed in 2014.
According to Reuters, the surrender could not be independently confirmed. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian defence ministry, said he had no information about it, and neither the Ukrainian president’s office nor the Ukrainian military had responded.
“In the town of Mariupol, near the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works, as a result of successful offensives by Russian armed forces and Donetsk People’s Republic militia units, 1,026 Ukrainian soldiers of the 36th Marine Brigade voluntarily laid down arms and surrendered,” According to a statement released by the Russian defence ministry.
According to a post on the Ukrainian marine brigade’s Facebook page, its troops had run out of ammunition as they prepared for a final confrontation in Mariupol that would end in death or capture.
“Today will probably be the ultimate battle, as there is no ammo left,” said the post. “Beyond that: hand to hand fighting. Beyond that, for some death, for others capture.”
At the time, some Ukrainian officials believed the post may have been fake, and troops were still holding out.
151 wounded Ukrainian soldiers were treated on the spot and taken to Mariupol’s city hospital, according to the Russian defence ministry.