MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian soldiers cleared mines and debris on the industrial grounds of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol on Sunday after hundreds of Ukrainian forces holed up in the vast plant for weeks were ordered to stand down.
Soldiers walked through the compound and swung mine detectors over roads littered with debris, while others checked under objects for the explosive devices, video footage showed.
“The task is huge, the enemy planted their own landmines, we had also planted anti-personnel mines while blocking the enemy. So we’ve got some two weeks of work ahead of us,” said a Russian soldier who only gave his nom de guerre Babai.
Russia on Friday said the last Ukrainian fighters defending Azovstal had surrendered. Ukraine has not confirmed that development, but a commander of one of the units in the factory said in a video that the troops had been ordered to stand down.
The fighters who barricaded themselves into the tunnels have given themselves up to Russian and pro-Russian forces.
The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.
Sunday’s operation at Azovstal saw mines detonated in controlled explosions and debris cleared from the steelworks’ roads using military bulldozers.
Drone footage showed the steelworks’ buildings left in ruins, many charred, many partially collapsed and some just a pile of debris.
“Over the last two days, over a 100 explosives have been destroyed. The work continues,” Babai said.
Full control of Mariupol gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
(Reporting by Retuers; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Stephen Coates)