Ukraine is working to evacuate the last Mariupol troops

The Ukrainian worked on Tuesday to evacuate its remaining fighter jets from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where three months of Russian bombing have left the besieged port city in ruins.

Ukrainian officials said more than 260 soldiers were evacuated on Monday.

Fifty-three seriously injured fighters were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol, said Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar. Novoazovsk is under the control of Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists.

Another 211 fighters were taken to the city of Olenivka, an area also controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Malyar said, adding that the evacuees would be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with .

During his nightly video speech to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the evacuation of soldiers from Mariupol.

“I want to emphasize – Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle,” Zelenskyy said. “I think every adequate person will understand these words. The operation to save Mariupol’s defenders was started by our military and intelligence officers. To get the boys home, the work continues, and this work requires delicacy. And time.”

Malyar said efforts were being made to rescue the remaining soldiers inside the facility, the resistance’s last stronghold in the ruined southern port city of Mariupol.

“Thanks to Mariupol’s defenders, Ukraine was given a critically important time,” she said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to block Azovstal by military means.”

Also on Monday, Ukraine said its forces had repulsed Russian troops in the Kharkiv region in a counter-offensive that allowed the Ukrainians to reach the Russian border.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense posted a video showing what it said was its troops at the border, in which a soldier told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “We are here.”

A senior U.S. defense official said Ukrainian troops were within three or four miles of the Russian border.

After averting Russian progress towards Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, Ukrainian forces have regained territory in the region and tried to pressure Russia from its position in Izyum, focusing on the southeastern Donbas region.

“The Kremlin dreamed of capturing Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa, then at least the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted on Monday. “Now Russian troops are concentrated in the Luhansk region due to a lack of forces. We are continuing the treatment of imperialist greatness madness and getting Moscow to face reality.”

Donetsk and Luhansk are situated in the Donbas region.

In Washington, the senior US defense official reported heavy artillery fire in Donetsk on Monday, but said Russian gains were “uneven, slow, incremental, short and small”.

“We know that the Russians continue to make sacrifices,” the official said. “They continue to lose equipment and systems every day.”

Western allies with Ukraine continue to send more weapons to Kiev forces, with 10 airlift deliveries from seven nations in the past 24 hours, the US defense official told reporters during a background call on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West that Moscow would respond if strengthened its military presence in Finland and Sweden after the two Nordic countries declared on Sunday that they wanted to join the US-dominated Western military alliance.

Putin told the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states that the expansion of NATO by 30 countries was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to worsen world stability.

The Russian leader said there was no direct threat from NATO by adding the two countries to his alliance, but said: “The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would really provoke our response.”

“What that (answer) will be – we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin said at the Grand Kremlin Palace. “Problems are created for no reason at all. We will react accordingly.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and announced their application for NATO membership on Sunday at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

“This is a historic day,” Niinisto said. “A new era begins.”

Hours later, Sweden also said it would seek membership of NATO, which put an end to two centuries of military freedom of alliance. On Sunday, the Swedish ruling party put down its opposition to joining the military alliance.

On Monday, Sweden’s Prime Minister told lawmakers in the that joining NATO was “a historic change in our country’s security policy”.

“We will inform NATO that we want to join the alliance,” she said. “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with NATO membership.”

The two Nordic countries’ NATO applications are likely to proceed quickly, and the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said in recent days that they will be welcomed.

“Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners,” said NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana on Sunday in , where members met to discuss their continued support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and expansion of the Atlantic Alliance.

Fast food giant McDonald’s announced on Monday that they had begun the process of selling their Russian business after operating there for three decades. It is the latest company to leave Russia since the conflict began.

McDonald’s said in a statement that it is no longer sustainable to work in Russia, nor is it compatible with McDonald’s values. The company had already suspended operations at its 850 Russian restaurants.

National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information for this story came from the Associated Press, Agence -Presse and .

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