Bread distribution
© Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
Russiske styrker har fuldt indtaget den vigtige havneby i Donbass ved det Sorte Hav, Mariupol, fortalte forsvarsminsteren Sergey Shoigu til Præsident Vladimir Putin i torsdags. Dog forbliver mere end 2000 militante, loyale til Kiev, fortrængt i Azovstal stålfabrikken i byen, tilføjede han.

Putin kaldte Shoigu's plan om at storme området for "ikke tilrådeligt" og beordrede han istedet for sikkert at blokere arealet samtidig med at give dem indenfor endnu et tilbud om at overgive sig. Dette sidste holdepunkt er afspærret fra forsyninger.

Da Mariupol blev omringet i starten af marts forblev der omkring 8100 soldater, udenlandske lejesoldater og nationalistiske militante deriblandt medlemmer af den notoriske neo-nazi Azov bataljon - indenfor ifølge ministerens vurderinger.

More than 1,400 militants have laid down their arms, Shoigu said, adding that over 142,000 civilians have also been evacuated from the city. It has been under siege for weeks.

Russia has twice sought to establish a humanitarian corridor for those willing to leave the plant in recent days, but both attempts failed. The Russian Defense Ministry has been calling on the remaining Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms, offering safety guarantees, if they accept the surrender proposal and halt all hostilities.

Sergey Volina, the commander of Ukraine's 36th Marines Brigade, holed up at the plant, claimed that "hundreds" of civilians were trapped in the facility. He didn't explain why they would voluntarily decide to hide out at a facility controlled by besieged Neo-Nazis and regular Ukrainian troops.

"We have made some 90 buses and 25 ambulances ready for them," Shoigu said, adding that cameras have been mounted in the area to monitor the situation. "No one has left the Azovstal [plant]," he added. Some 100 civilians from other areas seized this opportunity to evacuate, the minister said.

The Russian forces have also freed all hostages held at the Mariupol port, including the crews of sea vessels, who had their communications cut off by hostage-takers, Shoigu said. The port is still closed due to the presence of mines, he added.

The Ukrainian forces holed up in the plant outlined their own conditions for leaving the location late on Wednesday. The troops indicated that they would leave the area with the support of an unspecified "third party," Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, said at the time. He added that they also wanted to keep their personal weapons, refusing to surrender.

Mariupol has seen some of the most intense fighting since Moscow launched its offensive.

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.