Ukrainian soldiers evacuate Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol | USA TODAY

More than 260 Ukrainian troops were removed to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

RELATED: Mariupol under siege as Russian forces storm Ukrainian steel plant

A contingent of Ukrainian fighters who doggedly defended a steel mill in Mariupol for weeks have “fulfilled its combat mission,” Ukrainian officials said, and efforts were underway 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.

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