Russia poised to take control of Mariupol as Ukraine surrenders steel plant
Attacks reported in western, northern Ukraine; Sweden and Finland set to apply for NATO membership
Updates from Day 83 of the war
Ukrainian fighters evacuated from Mariupol steel plant.
8 reportedly killed in Russian airstrike in Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine.
Missile strike reported in Lviv, western Ukraine, near Polish border.
Finland, Sweden to officially bid for NATO membership.
Ukraine's military said on Tuesday that it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.
The evacuation of hundreds of fighters, many wounded, to Russian-held towns likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.
"The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement.
"The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel.... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time," it added.
Ukrainian deputy defence minister Anna Malyar said 53 injured troops from the steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometres to the east, while another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.
Seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters from the Azovstal garrison arrived at a newly reopened prison in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk, a Reuters witness said.
There were some women aboard at least one of the buses, Reuters video showed. Some wore olive green uniforms, as did most of the men. All of them appeared exhausted. One rested against duffel bags stacked on the floor.
What will happen to the fighters was unclear. The Kremlin had said Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards.
The complete capture of Mariupol would be Russia's biggest victory since its Feb. 24 invasion and give Moscow total control of the Sea of Azov coast and an unbroken stretch of Ukraine's east and south.
But the port city now lies in ruins, and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment and siege.
Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered," including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.
Russian Defence Ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.
While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the steelworks, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside, and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed.
"We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an early morning address. "There are severely wounded ones among them. They're receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive."
Several hours later, he said Ukraine was still working to extract the remaining troops, still not confirming how many remain inside.
"The evacuation mission is continuing, it is being supervised by our military and intelligence officers," Zelensky said in his nightly video address. "The most influential international mediators are involved."
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded once their condition stabilizes, but neither side disclosed terms for any specific deal.
High-profile Russian lawmakers spoke out against any prisoner swap. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house, said: "Nazi criminals should not be exchanged." Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia's negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants "animals in human form" and said they should be executed.
Driven from Kharkiv
Ukrainian fighters in recent days have driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east, having earlier held the capital Kyiv and its surrounding area.
Ukraine says its forces had reached the Russian border, 40 kilometres north of Kharkiv, and pushed at least as far as the Siverskyi Donets river, about 40 kilometres to the east, where they could threaten supply lines to Russia's main advance in the Donbas region.
But fierce fighting and shelling continued across a broad area of the country's east.
Zelensky's office said on Tuesday that the entire front line around Donetsk is under constant massive shelling, while in the northern region of Chernihiv, a missile strike on the village of Desna killed and wounded an unspecified number of people.
Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces were reinforcing and preparing to renew their offensive near Slovyansk and Drobysheve, southeast of the strategic town of Izyum, having suffered losses elsewhere.
Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. One missile hit a military facility, but there were no casualties, according to Zelensky's office.
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that its missiles destroyed U.S. and European arms shipments in Ukraine's western Lviv region.
Ukraine also took losses in the north near its shared border with Belarus. Eight people were killed and 12 wounded in a Russian airstrike on the village of Desna in Chernihiv, the regional emergency service said.
A village in Russia's western province of Kursk bordering Ukraine came under Ukrainian fire on Tuesday, regional governor Roman Starovoit said. Three houses and a school were hit, but there were no injuries, he said.
Russian border guards returned fire to quell the shooting from large-calibre weapons on the border village of Alekseyevka, Starovoit wrote on messaging app Telegram.
Reuters could not immediately confirm details of battleground accounts.
On the international front, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden and Finland will hand in their respective applications on Wednesday to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, abandoning their long-standing policy of neutrality over concerns about Putin's wider intentions.
The leaders of both countries expressed optimism that they could overcome Turkey's objections to them joining amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at smoothing their path into the 30-nation alliance.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, has objected to allowing Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, saying they failed to take a "clear" stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and imposed military sanctions on Turkey.
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would probably make "not much difference," as the two countries had long participated in the alliance's military drills.
"Finland and Sweden, as well as other neutral countries, have been participating in NATO military exercises for many years," he said.
With files from The Associated Press