Fears for Mariupol defenders after surrender to Russia -Breaking
MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters – Worries grew about Wednesday’s welfare of the more than 250 Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal steelworks near Mariupol to Russian forces after weeks and desperate resistance.
With the surrender, Russia was able to end its most destructive siege in Ukraine. This allowed Vladimir Putin to take a rare victory in the faltering war that many military analysts have deemed to be in stalemate.
Late Monday saw buses leave the steelworks in a convoy that was accompanied by Russian armoured trucks. Five of them arrived in Novoazovsk (Russian-held), where Moscow assured that wounded soldiers would be taken care.
A Reuters witness reported that seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters were transported by the Azovstal garrison to a newly reopened Olenivka prison, near Donetsk.
Russia stated that at least 256 Ukrainian combatants had “laid down the arms and surrendered”, with 51 seriously wounded. Ukraine stated that 226 soldiers including 53 injured had been evacuated.
Russian defence ministry video captured fighters leaving the site, with some being carried on stretchers while others having their hands raised to allow Russian troops into the area.
Reuters video revealed that at least one bus in Olenivka had a woman on board.
Both sides had spoken of an agreement under which all Ukrainian soldiers would leave the steelworks. However, not many details are available, such as how many fighters remained in Ukraine and if any type of prisoner swap was reached.
Putin, according to Kremlin officials, had made it clear that he would treat the prisoner in accordance with international standards. Officials from Ukraine suggested they might be swapped for Russian prisoners.
Iryna Vreshchuk (Ukraine’s deputy prime minister) stated that Kyiv wanted to organize a prisoner exchange for the wounded after their condition stabilized.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: “I didn’t know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered.”
The TASS news agency stated that a Russian team planned to question soldiers from the Azov Battalion in an investigation into the “Ukrainian regime crime” allegations.
A number of high-profile Russian politicians resisted any prisoner swap. Vyacheslav Volodin (speaker of Russia’s State Duma), said that “Nazi criminals shouldn’t be exchanged.”
Leonid Slutsky (Russia’s lawmaker) was one of the negotiators for talks with Ukraine. He called the evacuated combatants “animals living in human form” that should be executed.
Azov Regiment, which was founded in 2014 as an extremist right-wing militia to defeat Russian-backed separatists. Ukraine claims that it has been reformated and integrated into its National Guard.
Natalia was the wife of a sailor who is among those confined in the plant. She told Reuters that she hoped there would be “an honest exchange”. However, she is still concerned: “Russia is doing something inhumane.”
BATTLE FOR THE DONBAS
Russia’s largest victory, the culmination of the battle to capture Mariupol (which came to symbolize the Ukrainian resistance), has been since February 24, when it began a special military operation to “denazify” its country.
Moscow now has control over the Azov Sea coastline and unbroken territory of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. However, the port has been left in disrepair and Ukraine is certain that thousands died under Russian bombardment.
According to the White House, U.S. president Joe Biden will be hosting the leaders from Sweden and Finland on Thursday at the White House in order to discuss their NATO application. They are hopeful that they will overcome Turkey’s objections to joining the 30-nation alliance.
Russia’s eastern offensive appeared to have stagnated, even though the Kremlin promises that it will achieve all its goals.
Russia-backed separatists occupied around one third of Donbas before the invasion. Moscow currently controls 90% of Luhansk Region, although it failed to advance significantly towards Donetsk’s key cities of Sloviansk (in Donetsk) in its bid to control the entirety of Donbas.
The Ukrainian forces advanced at a rapid pace over the past month and drove Russian troops out of Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second largest city).
The Ukrainian forces claimed to have crossed the Russian border at 40 km (25 mi) north Kharkiv. The Ukrainian forces have also advanced at least 40 kilometers to the east of the Siverskiy Donets River, which could pose a threat to Russian supply lines.
Analysts said that Putin could have to make a decision about whether or not to send additional troops and equipment to help replenish his weakening invasion force. An influx of Western weapons including hundreds of U.S.- and Canadian M777 howitzers with a longer range than Russian counterparts boosts Ukraine’s combat strength.
“Time is certainly working against Russia… Neil Melvin from the RUSI think-tank based in London said, “The Ukrainians seem to be getting stronger almost daily.”