On Monday morning, the Ukrainian garrison that was still residing in the huge Azovstal Steel and Ironworks facility in Mariupol surrendered. On March 19, the Russian army issued an order, which sounded alarming. The Mariupol defense forces were given just a few hours to surrender their city, lay down their arms, and agree to the Russian assurance to provide “safe passage” out of the city. If they did not comply, the garrison, which Moscow called “nationalists,” “foreign mercenaries,” and “bandits,” would face a “military tribunal.” The rationale behind the Russian move was that Mariupol had been fighting Russian attacks for three weeks, and around 20 Russian battalion-specific tactical groups (BTGs), which were urgently needed for other tasks, were caught up in street battles.
After a siege lasting more than three months, the garrison was forced into a maze of tunnels and bunkers designed to withstand nuclear attacks. They were shut off, ran out of ammunition and food, and no longer had the resources to care for their wounded. The grimness of the situation grew within the underground complex–surgeries and amputations were done without anesthesia and antibiotics. Many initiatives were put forward to find ways to get them out. The Turks, the Red Cross, and the Vatican tried to reach a secure-passage deal with a promise of detention until the war was finished, but without success. In the end, the burden of the wounded soldiers and the absence of the resources to fight prevailed. A total of 200 wounded Ukrainian prisoners were treated at an emergency room in Russia-occupied Donetsk. The rest were taken to a hospital located in Olenivka. The conditions of the surrender state that they will be exchanged for a comparable number of Russian prisoners.
The unfortunate thing is that the soldiers were ordered to surrender to the Russians. As Russian officials have been described, in the words of General George Patton, as “giv[ing] the appearance of recently civilized Mongolian bandits,” the Russian soldiers are gaining an image of being rough, unorganized, and lacking in respect. Their politicians are even worse. Already, the foundations are being laid for a reversal of the prisoner-exchange deal. There is no chance anyone who surrendered would be aware of the events. The situation leading up to the surrender cost the Russians too much in terms of time and deaths.
The soldiers who held Mariupol performed as was reasonably expected. The men could have changed the tide of conflict within Southern Ukraine by keeping 20,000 enemy troops, one-sixth of the Russian soldiers in Ukraine, tied up for more than a month. The Russian units released by this surrender experienced heavy losses and will require an extended period of rebuilding in order to return to combat effectiveness.