The sprawling Azovstal facility is the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol after more than two months of Russian encirclement and heavy fighting that has leveled large parts of the city.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says authorities are negotiating with the Russian side on a possible evacuation of dozens of seriously wounded Ukrainian fighters trapped inside the Azovstal metals plant in the devastated southern city of Mariupol.
She cited a potential swap for captured Russian troops but said the talks are "very difficult."
"Currently, we are negotiating only about 38 seriously wounded [Ukrainian] fighters," Vereshchuk said via Telegram. "There are currently no talks on the exchange of 500 or 600 people, as reported by some media." She discouraged public comments on any specifics of the talks or "interfering" to avoid misinforming or threatening progress. The intense seven-week siege by Russian forces surrounding Azovstal has become a powerful symbol of Ukrainian resistance. Many of the civilians trapped inside Azovstal -- women, children, and elderly -- have been evacuated, although the government in Kyiv has suggested that 100 or so noncombatants may still be hiding in the warren-like tunnels and infrastructure of the nearly 90-year-old steel plant. Vereshchuk said on May 10 that more than 1,000 Ukrainian fighters remained in the sprawling facility , the last pocket of resistance after more than two months of Russian encirclement and heavy fighting that has leveled large parts of the city.
She added in comments to the AFP news agency that "hundreds...with serious injuries who require urgent evacuation" are inside, with the situation "deteriorating every day." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week acknowledged his forces couldn't unblock Mariupol militarily and said preparations were under way for a second stage of evacuation to get the wounded and medics out.