Russia has announced that 959 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday., the strategic city in southeastern Ukraine which is practically under the control of Russian forces. The Ukrainian authorities claim that there are still soldiers in the tunnels of the steelworks and offer to organize an exchange of prisoners of war, even if Moscow considers that at least some of them are not soldiers but neo-Nazi fighters. During, First war crimes trial of Russian soldier accused of killing Ukrainian civilian begins in Kyiv.
The situation in Azovstal
“In the past 24 hours, 694 fighters, including 29 wounded, have been taken prisoner. Since May 16, 959 fighters, including 80 wounded, have surrendered” he clarified russian ministry of defense in a statement collected by the Sputnik news agency. The official report does not specify whether Ukrainian military personnel remained inside the factory, but the governor of the separatist province of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, assured that the highest-ranking officers still remained there.
The departure of the Ukrainian fighters from the factory had been admitted on Monday by the kyiv government, although without speaking of “surrender” but of “evacuation”. However, Monday evening, in his usual video message, the president Volodimir Zelensky defended the military’s decision to surrender and assured that “Ukraine prefers its living heroes”.
Doubts about prisoner swap
According to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense made public on Wednesday, 51 of the soldiers who had taken refuge in the labyrinth of the underground galleries of the immense Azovstal steelworks since April 22 and surrendered were hospitalized in Novoazovsk, city under control of the Russians and their separatist allies in the eastern region of Donetsk.
The Russian ministry did not specify what fate the prisoners will have, but Denis Pushilin he told the DAN news agency that “regarding war crimes, as well as the nationalists who have laid down their arms, their future must be decided by a court”.
kyiv has remained silent since announcing its intention to exchange military personnel for Russian prisoners. Russia, for its part, is not revealing whether it will accept a swap, but strong voices have emerged inside the country in the lower house, the prosecutor’s office and in the pro-Russian Donbass that strongly reject the possibility.
This Wednesday the plenary session of the Duma began to study a draft resolution that would ban an exchange of “Nazi criminals”as Russia qualifies the nationalist fighters of the Azov Battalion. The Speaker of the Lower House, Viacheslav Volodin, explained in his Telegram account that this will not be an express procedure because the plenary session ordered the parliamentary committees to study the issue.
“Our country treats those who have surrendered or been taken prisoner with humanity. But as for the Nazis, our position here must remain the same: they are war criminals, and we must do everything to bring them to justice,” he said. said Volodin. The Azov regiment, created in 2014 precisely in Mariupol, since the end of that year has been fully integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine.
First war crimes trial in Ukraine
As Vadim Shishimarinthe Russian non-commissioned officer who is on trial in Ukraine in the first war crimes trial since the invasion of Ukrainepleaded guilty in a kyiv court to killing a Ukrainian civilian. The 21-year-old NCO is accused of killing a 62-year-old civilian on February 28 in northeastern Ukraine, and faces life imprisonment for war crimes and premeditated murder.
The process is the first in a series to be held short-term and will be a test for Ukraine’s justice system at a time when international institutions launch their own investigations into alleged abuses by Russian troops in that country.
The Kremlin said it had no information about the case and accused kyiv of fabricating such accusations against its troops. “Possibilities to help the defendants are very limited in the absence of diplomatic representation”said the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskovfor whom these accusations of war crimes are “false or fabricated”.