Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to claim victory in the strategic port of Mariupol, even as he ordered his troops not to storm the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the war’s iconic battleground.
Russian troops have besieged the southeastern city since the early days of the conflict and largely pulverized it.
Top officials have repeatedly indicated it was about to fall, but Ukrainian forces stubbornly held on.
In recent weeks, they holed up in a sprawling steel plant.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Thursday on state TV that the plant was “securely blocked” but the rest of the city was “liberated,” NBC News reported.
Shoigu said about 2,000 Ukrainian troops are currently at the plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said about 1,000 civilians were trapped there.
Putin said Thursday that, for now, he would not risk sending troops into the warren of tunnels under the giant Azovstal plant.
Putin’s order may mean that Russian officials are hoping they can wait for the defenders to surrender after running out of food or ammunition.
The Ukrainian government has been trying to find ways to evacuate soldiers and civilians trapped in Mariupol.