Home World The fate of 2,500 Ukrainian POWs from the steel plant is a concern

The fate of 2,500 Ukrainian POWs from the steel plant is a concern

The fate of 2,500 Ukrainian POWs from the steel plant is a concern

POKROVSK, Ukraine — With Russia claiming to have taken nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters captive from the besieged Mariupol steel plant, concerns about their fate mounted as the Moscow-backed separatist leader vowed he would face a tribunal.

Russia has declared its full control over the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout in Mariupol for weeks and a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the strategic port city, with more than 20,000 residents now feared dead. The seizure gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly-desired victory in a war that began nearly three months ago.

Poland, which has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war, is a strong supporter of Ukraine’s desire to join the European Union. Russia has blocked Ukraine’s sea ports, Poland has become a major gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons into Ukraine and is helping Ukraine bring its grain and other agricultural products to world markets.

The Russian Defense Ministry released video of Ukrainian soldiers being detained, after announcing that its forces had removed the last holdouts from extensive underground tunnels at the Mariupol plant. It said a total of 2,439 had surrendered.

Family members of the fighters from various military and law enforcement units pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said on Saturday that Ukraine would “fight for the return” of each of them.

Denis Pushilin, a Kremlin supporter from a region in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, said some foreign nationals were among the captured fighters, though he did not give details. They said they were certain to face a tribunal. Russian officials and state media have sought to characterize the fighters as neo-Nazis and criminals.

“I believe that justice should be restored. For this there is a request from the common people, society and, perhaps, the sensible part of the world community,” Russian state news agency Tass quoted Pushilin as saying.

Among the defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been confiscated by the Kremlin as part of its attempt to invade Ukraine as part of a fight against Nazi influence.

A prominent member of Russia’s parliament, Leonid Slutsky, said Moscow was studying the possibility of exchanging Azovstal fighters for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian with close ties to Putin facing criminal charges in Ukraine, Russian news Agency Interfax told. Slutsky later backtracked from those comments, saying that he agreed with Pushilin that his fate should be decided by a tribunal.

The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia’s claim to capture Azovstal. The Ukrainian military told the fighters that their mission was over and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.

The capture of Mariupol advances Russia’s quest to build a land bridge stretching from the Donbass region to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

The impact on the wider war remained unclear. Many Russian troops had already been redeployed elsewhere in the conflict from Mariupol.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday that Russia destroyed a Ukrainian special operations base near Ukraine’s main Black Sea port of Odessa, as well as a significant cache of Western-supplied weapons in northern Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region. have destroyed. There was no confirmation from Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces reported heavy fighting in most of the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation, “The situation in Donbass is extremely difficult. As in previous days, Russian forces are trying to strike Slovak and Svyarodonetsk.” He added that the Ukrainian military is stopping the offensive “every day”.

Svyarodonetsk is the main city under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk Region, which, together with the Donetsk Region, forms the Donbass. Serhi Haidai, the city’s only functioning hospital, has just three doctors and supplies for 10 days.

Slovak in the Donetsk region, crucial to Russia’s aim to capture the whole of eastern Ukraine, and saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops retreated from Kyiv. The governor said Russian shelling on Saturday killed seven civilians and wounded 10 others in the area.

Regional police said on Saturday that a monastery in the Donetsk region of Bohorodichne had been evacuated after it was hit by Russian airstrikes. Police said in a Facebook post that about 100 monks, nuns and children were searching for safe shelter in the basement of the church and no one was hurt, including one showing extensive damage to the monastery as well as nuns, monks and children. Video was included. Boarding van on Friday for evacuation.

Zelensky stressed on Saturday that the Donbass remained part of Ukraine and that its forces were fighting to liberate it.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, he put pressure on Western countries for multi-launch rocket systems, which he said in other countries “stand still” yet were critical to Ukraine’s success. Huh.

Portugal and Poland, where Costa stayed for talks before his trip to Kyiv, support an early entry of Ukraine into the EU, even though some other EU members shy away from giving it quick access.

US President Joe Biden on Saturday signed $40 billion in new aid to Ukraine, half of which was for military aid. Portugal promised up to 250 million euros, as well as a continued shipment of military equipment.

Mariupol, which is part of the Donbass, was blocked off at the start of the war and became a frightening example for people elsewhere in the country, facing hunger, terror and death if the Russians surrounded their communities. were.

The seaside steelworks, spread over about 11 square kilometers (4 sq mi), was a battlefield for weeks. Attracting Russian air strikes, artillery and tank fire, a dwindling group of outgoing Ukrainian fighters carried out with the help of airdrops, which Zelensky said cost the lives of many “absolutely heroic” helicopter pilots.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday released video of Russian troops detaining the commander of the Ukrainian Navy’s 36th Special Marine Brigade, Serhi Volinsky, one of the main forces guarding the steel plant. The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify the date, location and conditions of the video.

With Russia taking control of the city, Ukrainian authorities may face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the bombing of a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of civilians took cover. Satellite images in April showed mass graves outside Mariupol, where local authorities accused Russia of hiding the slaughter by burying 9,000 civilians.

An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before the war. Many trapped in the siege of Russia were left without food, water and electricity.

The Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol warned on Saturday that the city was facing a health and sanitation “catastrophe” from mass burials in shallow pits in the ruined city, as well as a breakdown of sewage systems. Vadim Boychenko said summer rains risked contamination of water sources as he pressured Russian forces to allow residents to leave the city safely.

“In addition to the humanitarian devastation created by the (Russian) occupiers and allies, the city is on the verge of an outbreak of infectious diseases,” he said on the messaging app Telegram.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv. Stashevskyi reported from Kyiv. Associated Press journalist Uras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Frances D’Amilio in Rome and other Associated Press employees from around the world contributed.

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Follow Associated Press’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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