A drone photograph shows a destroyed Russian tank on the side of a road and destroyed homes in a small town east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
May 18 (UPI) -- Russia's military said on Wednesday that hundreds of Ukrainian troops who have been holed up for weeks at the steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered and been taken into custody.
Officials in Moscow put the number of surrendered Ukrainian troops at the plant over the past 24 hours at more than 250. Russia's military said they joined close to 1,000 others who were taken into custody earlier this week.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged that the surrendering fighters from the plant were taken to Russian-held territories in Ukraine.
Many of the surrendering fighters carried wounded out of the facility, television footage broadcast via Russian media showed. It's believed that a small number of resistance fighters remain inside the plant, which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russia.
For months, the Ukrainian fighters and hundreds of civilians took refuge in the Mariupol plant and put up resistance to advancing Russian forces. Their surrender represents a leap toward the first true outright Russian victory in the key port city.
Moscow also claimed on Wednesday that about 270 Ukrainian fighters were killed and 54 "units of military equipment" were disabled in the long-running fight at the steel plant. Ukrainian officials did not immediately address that claim.
Officials in Kyiv said, however, that the Ukrainian fighters from the steel plant could become part of a prisoner exchange with Moscow later.
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian State Duma, said that they should be considered "Nazi criminals" and disqualified from a prisoner exchange. Russian President Vladimir Putin, state-run media and supporters of Moscow's war have falsely cited "neo-Naziism" in Ukraine as the main reason for the war, which began Feb. 24.
A child's toy is seen next to a destroyed Russian tank in a small town east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
British intelligence said that even with the surrender at the steel plant, the hundreds of Ukrainian troops there were highly effective in rebuffing Russian advances and preventing Putin's troops from taking full control of the strategic city. The several weeks it took Moscow to finally take Mariupol is considered by many to be a severe military failure and an embarrassment for the Kremlin.
During that time, Moscow lost untold Russian troops and military equipment.
"In attempting to overcome Ukrainian resistance, Russia has made significant use of auxiliary personnel," the British Defense Ministry said in a tweet.
"This includes a deployment of Chechen forces, likely consisting of several thousand fighters primarily concentrated in the Mariupol and Luhansk sectors.
"These forces likely consist of both individual volunteers and National Guard units, which are routinely dedicated to securing the rule of Chechen Republic Head, Ramazan Kadyrov."
Also Wednesday, Moscow kept up its assault in the Donetsk region in the east, with more than two dozen attacks in 24 hours. Officials said at least one person was killed and multiple children were injured there. Ukraine's national police said more than 50 civilian buildings were destroyed.
At a briefing Wednesday, Russian officials said the military destroyed a battery of Ukrainian howitzers that were sent by the United States. They said the cannons were damaged in the area of Podgorne and supplied video footage.
President Joe Biden's administration has helped the Ukrainian war effort with billions of dollars over the past few months and military equipment.
A senior U.S. defense official said last week that the vast majority of the M777 howitzer artillery systems were already being used in Ukraine. The Pentagon sent almost 100 of the long-range weapons to the Eastern European country.
A local woman walks down a dirt road on Monday as life tries to return to normal after Russian shelling hit the small town of Biskvitne, Ukraine, east of Kharkiv. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo