'Heroes of our time' exit Mariupol steel plant; Kremlin calls it mass surrender: Live Ukraine updates

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A contingent of Ukrainian fighters who doggedly defended a steel mill in Mariupol for weeks "fulfilled its combat mission," Ukrainian officials said, and efforts were underway Tuesday to evacuate the last of the group.

“The Supreme Military Command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of their personnel,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement. "Mariupol defenders are heroes of our time."

More than 260 Ukrainian troops were evacuated to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The Kremlin called the exodus a mass surrender. Russian Defense Ministry video shows troops patting down and searching the fighters. Some were on stretchers as they were loaded onto the buses.

Ukraine Minister for the Reintegration Irina Vereshchuk said a prisoner exchange will take place for the more than 50 wounded soldiers, when their condition stabilizes, along with more than 200 other fighters evacuated through a humanitarian corridor. Hundreds of prisoners from both sides have been exchanged since the war began Feb. 24.

An unknown number of troops remained at the Azovstal steel plant that sprawls across 4 square miles. The plant has symbolized Ukraine's final holdout in the besieged city.

“The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

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In this photo provided by Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office, a serviceman injured during fighting against Russian forces, poses for a photographer inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10, 2022.
In this photo provided by Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office, a serviceman injured during fighting against Russian forces, poses for a photographer inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10, 2022.

Latest developments:

►Seven civilians were killed in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region as a result of Russian attacks, Ukrainian regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko posted Tuesday on Telegram. Another six people were injured.

►French President Emmanuel Macron committed to increasing weapons shipments in a phone conversation Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, France24.com reported.

►No negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are being conducted because "Ukraine has in fact quit the process of negotiations,'' Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said Tuesday. Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak blamed Moscow for taking an "all or nothing" approach to the talks.

►Russia's prosecutor general has asked his nation's Supreme Court to recognize Ukraine's Azov Regiment as a terrorist organization. Interfax news agency said the court will hear the case May 26. The volunteer militia has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine since 2014, and its fighters drew global attention for their desperate stand in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

►Finland’s Eduskunta legislature voted 188-8 Tuesday to approve Finland seeking NATO membership. The vote was a formality as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced Sunday the intention to join the alliance.

Zelenskyy urges speaking out against war at Cannes Film Festival

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former actor, has a flair for the dramatic. He demonstrated that trait again Tuesday when he made a video appearance at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in France.

If Zelenskyy's presence was surprising, his words were powerful, prompting the audience at the Palais des Festivals to give him a standing ovation, according to France24.com.

"Hundreds of people are dying every day. They won't get up again after the clapping at the end," Zelenskyy said in the prerecorded message. "Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up?''

Zelenskyy alluded to the 1940 film "The Great Dictator,'' featuring Charlie Chaplin playing the two leading roles. Released during World War II, the movie satirizes Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"Chaplin's dictator did not destroy the real dictator, but thanks to cinema, thanks to this film, cinema did not stay quiet," Zelenskyy said. "We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute.''

Treasury Secretary Yellen says war should hasten transition to clean energy

The energy security emergency facing Europe and the world because of the war is a moment to rapidly accelerate the transition to clean energy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday. Yellen, in a prepared speech for the Brussels Economic Forum, called the war a "wake-up call" for energy security and said that "no country controls the wind and the sun." Europe's dependence on Russian energy has complicated efforts to sting Moscow with harsh economic sanctions.

"Let’s make sure that this is the last time that the global economy is held hostage to the hostile actions of those who produce fossil fuels," Yellen said. "This will happen again if we don’t change our approach."

International court sends 42 experts to Ukraine for war crimes probe

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said Tuesday that he has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine. Prosecutor Karim Khan said the team, working with the Ukrainian authorities, will connect crime scene investigations and strengthen "hard evidence."

To be classified as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” Thousands of Ukrainian civilians are believed to have died since the Russian invasion began less than three months ago.

"It is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant," Khan said in a statement, pledging to " bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice."

$40B funding for Ukraine nears approval

Congress is poised to approve more than $40 billion in emergency funding to support Ukraine, an amount nearly three times greater than what the U.S. has already committed in military, humanitarian and other assistance to beat back Russia's invasion.

Along with the $13.6 billion passed in March, the combined $53.7 billion is about 81% of Russia’s 2021 defense budget, and more than one-quarter the size of Ukraine’s pre-war economy. The funding does not include the cost of reconstruction, which has been estimated at $600 billion. Paul Stephan, a University of Virginia law school professor who has worked at the State and Defense departments, was wary of proposals to use frozen Russian assets for rebuilding Ukraine.

“Russia will not always be a pariah,” Stephan wrote in a recent analysis for Lawfare. “When it returns to the fold, it will want its money back.”

Biden to meet with leaders of Sweden and Finland

President Joe Biden will meet at the White House with the leaders of Sweden and Finland on Thursday to discuss those nations’ application for membership in NATO, the White House announced Tuesday. The meeting with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland comes days after both countries announced they would seek entry into the alliance. Their applications must be approved by all current members, however, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised objections.

Still, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday reiterated Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments Sunday that there is strong support within NATO for Sweden and Finland to join and there are ongoing conversations with Turkey.

“We have every confidence that there will be a consensus,” Jean-Pierre said.

Maureen Groppe

Retired colonel on Russian TV: War is going badly and will 'frankly, get worse'

A retired Russian colonel broke from the Kremlin narrative of the war in Ukraine this week, warning on Russian TV that as the West ramps up its arms deliveries "a million armed Ukrainian soldiers needs to be viewed as a reality of the very near future." Thus the Russian's military struggles are likely to "frankly, get worse," Mikhail Khodaryonok said.

Khodaryonok said Russia faced "full geopolitical isolation." The Russian TV host, Olga Skabeyeva, known as the "Iron doll of Putin TV" for her fiercely pro-Kremlin takes, suggested that the isolation was only from the West. But Khodaryonok said support from China and India was not as unconditional as the support Ukraine was receiving from the U.S. and its allies.

"Virtually the entire world is against us," he said, as translated by the BBC's Francis Scarr. "And it's that situation that we need to get out of."

Khodaryonok also dismissed claims that the Ukraine military includes relatively few professional soldiers and was suffering from low morale.

"A desire to protect one's homeland, in the sense that it exists in Ukraine, it really does exist there," he said. "They intend to fight until the last man."

Ukraine military command lauds value of steel mill holdout

Hundreds of Ukraine fighters who held on for weeks at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol were able to keep Russia from shifting up to 20,000 personnel to other locations in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said in a statement. That gave the military "the opportunity to prepare and create the defensive frontiers on which our troops are still present today," the statement said.

"We got the critically needed time to build reserves, regroup forces, and get help from partners," the statement said.

The most important joint task of all Ukraine and the whole world is to save the lives of Mariupol defenders, the statement added: "We will fight for you on all fronts as devotedly as you defend the country."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Mariupol fighters 'fulfilled' mission at plant