MOSCOW, April 25. /TASS/. Russia has paused its military activities around the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariuol, in Ukraine, in a goodwill gesture to ensure the safe evacuation of civilians, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Monday.
"We have just now announced a halt to combat activities in the vicinity of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol to allow the remaining civilians a safe exit from the combat zone," Rudenko told journalists. "This is a grand gesture of goodwill on our behalf."
The Russian Defense Ministry reported earlier in the day that starting at 14:00 Moscow time [11:00 a.m. GMT] the forces of Russia and armed formations of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) would stop all combat activities to provide for the safe exit of civilians, who might still be trapped on the territory of the Azovstal plant.
Russian Defense Minister Army General Shoigu reported to President of Russia Vladimir Putin on April 21 that the Russian troops and the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) had liberated the city of Mariupol. As Shoigu specified, the remaining Ukrainian nationalist forces were holed up in the Azovstal steel complex. He added that Russia had prepared evacuation corridors for civilians who could be staying on the factory’s premises and declared a ceasefire but no one exited the steel plant.
The Russian defense minister also said that over 100 civilians had been evacuated from the territory adjacent to the steel complex over the past few days.
Liberation of Mariupol
Defense Minister Shoigu reported last week to Putin that Russian troops and the forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) had taken control of the entire city of Mariupol except for the Azovstal plant. Shoigu reported that starting on March 21, humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians and foreign nationals opened every day in the surrounding area.
Shoigu reported to Putin on April 21 that Russian troops would need "about three to four days" to seize control of the Azovstal plant, but the Russian president called off a potential offensive, saying that it would be unreasonable. Putin ordered that Azovstal be blocked "so that even a fly can’t get in or out" and everyone be offered to lay down their arms.
Russia’s military operation in Ukraine
The situation at the line of engagement in Donbass escalated on February 17. The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) reported the most massive bombardments by the Ukrainian military in recent months, which damaged civilian infrastructure and caused civilian casualties.
On February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced recognizing the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Russia recognized the Donbass republics in accordance with the DPR and LPR constitutions within the boundaries of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as of the beginning of 2014.
Russian President Putin said in a televised address on February 24 that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation in Ukraine. The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories, noting that the operation was aimed at the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine.