Hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen have been evacuated from the blockaded Azovstal metallurgical plant, the latest containment of troops defending the southern port city of Mariupol, Kyiv said on Monday.

The plant became a symbol of resistance: about 600 soldiers, hiding in underground tunnels and bunkers, fought with the rear guard to prevent Russian troops from gaining full control of the strategically located city.

But on Monday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said more than 260 people had been transported through humanitarian corridors to Moscow-controlled and Russian-backed separatist areas.

“An exchange procedure will be carried out for their further return home,” Painter said.

The Ukrainian army said that the military in Mariupol “fulfilled its combat mission,” and now the main goal – “saving the lives of personnel.”

Holding a metallurgical plant, they stopped Russian forces from quickly capturing the southern city of Zaporozhye, according to a Facebook post.

Despite the resources of its giant neighbor, Ukraine has managed to repel the Russian army longer than many expected, fortified with weapons and money from Western allies.

The latest example of this was on Monday, when Ukraine’s defense ministry announced that its troops had regained control of territory on the border with Russia near the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, which was under constant attack.

Eastern assault

After Moscow failed to take Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Moscow turned its attention to the Donbass, a region near the Russian border where pro-Russian separatists live.

Presidential adviser Alexei Arestovich told local television on Sunday that Russian troops were being redeployed to capture Severodonetsk, the easternmost city still under Ukrainian rule.

Its occupation will give the Kremlin de facto control over Luhansk, one of the two regions – along with Donetsk – that are part of the Donbass.

But Russia’s attempt to encircle the 100,000-strong city was repulsed by heavy equipment losses, while Russian-occupied railway bridges were blown up, Ukrainian officials said.

Read also: Ukraine is preparing for a new Russian push in the Donbass, declares success in the north

Russia has continued to strike in Luhansk, killing two people and injuring nine at a hospital in Severodonetsk, the Ukrainian presidency said on Monday.

Another 10 people were killed in Russian strikes on Severodonetsk, according to the local governor.

Police in neighboring Donetsk say Russian shelling has killed six civilians and injured 12 in recent days.

Six million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, and another eight million have been internally displaced, according to UN agencies.

NATO “without direct threat”

With Moscow showing no signs of retreat nearly three months after its invasion, Finland and Sweden are ready to abandon decades of military non-alignment by joining NATO’s military alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson confirmed on Monday that her country is applying to join the alliance, the day after Finland, which has a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, said the same.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that this step does not pose a direct threat to us, but the expansion of military infrastructure in these areas will certainly provoke our reaction.

The Russian leader’s reaction was more tolerant than comments earlier Monday by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rabkov, who called the enlargement a “serious mistake with far-reaching consequences.”

The move is not a deal, however, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday reaffirmed his country’s intention to block bids, accusing Finland and Sweden of harboring terrorist groups, including illegal Kurdish militants.

Sweden and Finland have failed to respond positively to Turkey’s 33 extradition requests over the past five years, sources in the Justice Ministry told Anadolu news agency on Monday.

Any application for membership must be unanimously approved by 30 NATO countries.

But US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Sunday expressed confidence that Sweden and Finland would join NATO, despite Turkish opposition.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet with Blinken in Washington on Wednesday, where Ankara’s objections are expected to top the agenda.

“Time is running out”

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss a ban on Russian oil – proposed as part of unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow, but blocked by Hungary because of the economic cost.

“We are dissatisfied with the fact that the oil embargo is not in force,” – said after the senior diplomat of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba.

“It is clear who is holding the question. But time is running out, because every day Russia continues to make money and invests that money in the war. “

The war, meanwhile, is affecting the growth of the continent. The European Commission has sharply lowered its forecast for the eurozone for 2022 to 2.7%, blaming the rapid rise in energy prices.

Separately, the French automaker Renault handed over its Russian assets to Moscow, and the American fast food giant McDonald’s announced its release, citing a “humanitarian crisis caused by the war.”

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