POKROVSK – On Saturday, there were concerns about Ukrainian fighters who were captured at the end of a brutal three-month siege of Mariupol by Russia, when Moscow-backed separatist leader promised courts.
Russia has demanded the Azovstal metallurgical plant, which for weeks was the last restraint in Mariupol and a symbol of Ukraine’s perseverance in the strategic port city, which is now in ruins with more than 20,000 residents feared dead. His capture brought Russian President Vladimir Putin a much-coveted victory in the war he started in February.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has released a video of the detention of Ukrainian soldiers after it said that its forces had eliminated the last mowing of kilometers of underground tunnels of the plant. Denis Pushylin, the pro-Kremlin head of a Moscow-backed separatist district in eastern Ukraine, claimed 2,439 people were in custody. He said on Russian state television that some foreign nationals were included in the figure, but did not provide further details.
Members of the families of the metallurgical plant’s fighters, who authorities say came from various military and law enforcement units, petitioned for their rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Their fellow citizens consider them heroes.
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk said on Saturday that the authorities “will fight for the return of every soldier” captured from the Azovstal metallurgical plant.
On Friday, convoys of buses guarded by Russian armored vehicles left the plant. At least some Ukrainians were taken to the former colony, while Russian authorities said others were hospitalized.
Pushylin said that the Ukrainians will definitely face the tribunal. Russian officials and state media sought to characterize the fighters as neo-Nazis and criminals.
“I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society and, probably, a reasonable part of the world community, ”Pushlin was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency TASS.
Among the plant’s more than 2,400 defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, whose far-right background was seized by the Kremlin as part of efforts to list his invasion as a struggle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government does not comment on Russia’s claim to capture Azovstal, which for several weeks remained the last defense of Mariupol for Ukrainian resistance. The Ukrainian military told the fighters that their mission was complete and they could leave. Their removal was described as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.
Completing the Battle of Mariupol would help Putin compensate for some of the setbacks, including the inability of Russian troops to seize Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, the sinking of the Russian navy’s flagship in the Black Sea, and continued resistance that halted the offensive in eastern Ukraine.
It also contributes to Russia’s desire to essentially build a land bridge from Russia across the Donbass region to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The impact of the broad war remained unclear. Many Russian troops have already been transferred from Mariupol to other parts of the conflict.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kanashenko said on Saturday that Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian special operations base in the Black Sea region of Odessa, as well as a significant stockpile of Western-supplied weapons in the Zhytomyr region of northern Ukraine. There was no confirmation from the Ukrainian side.
In its morning operational report, the Ukrainian military general staff reported heavy fighting in much of eastern Ukraine, including in the areas of Severodonetsk, Bakhmut and Avdeevka.
The Ukrainian military said Russia was expected to resume an offensive on the strategically important city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region. The city is crucial to Russia’s goal of capturing all of eastern Ukraine and last month experienced fierce fighting after Moscow’s troops withdrew from Kiev.
Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Luhansk Oblast Governor Syarhei Haidai said the only operating hospital in Severodonetsk had only three doctors and materials for 10 days. Seven civilians were killed and 10 others were injured in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region on Saturday, the region’s governor said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday rejected the idea of a counterattack on Russian territory, but stressed that Donbass remains sovereign for Ukraine.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Zelensky said his forces were fighting for “the liberation of our territory” and that the cost of “tens or hundreds of thousands of lives” was too high to surrender. He insisted on Western countries demanding multiple rocket launchers, which, he said, “just stand still” in other countries, but are “the key” to Ukraine’s success.
US President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a new $ 40 billion aid to Ukraine, half for military aid. Portugal has promised up to 250 million euros and will continue to supply military equipment.
Zelensky reiterated his intention to apply for EU membership and accused Russia of blocking the export of agricultural products from Ukraine, known as “Europe’s breadbasket”.
Mariupol, which is part of Donbass, was blocked at the start of the war and has become a terrible example to people in other countries of hunger, terror and death that they may face when Russians surround their communities.
The seaside metallurgical plant, which occupied about 11 square kilometers (4 square miles), was a battlefield for several weeks. Attracting Russian air strikes, artillery and tank fire, a shrinking group of Ukrainian fighters who surpassed weapons, held back by air falls.
In an interview published on Friday, Zelensky revealed that Ukrainian helicopter pilots bravely fired Russian anti-aircraft fire to transport medicine, food and water to a metallurgical plant, as well as retrieve bodies and rescue wounded fighters. A “very large” number of pilots died in the missions, he said, calling them “absolutely heroic.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday released a video in which the Russian military detained the commander of the 36th Separate Brigade of the Marines of the Ukrainian Navy Sergei Volynsky, who was one of the main forces defending the metallurgical plant. The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the date, location and conditions of the video.
As the city is controlled by Russia, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the bombings of a maternity hospital and theater where hundreds of civilians have taken refuge. Satellite images in April showed what appeared to be mass graves near Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of concealing the murder, burying up to 9,000 civilians.
It is estimated that of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before the war, about 100,000 remained. 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 had faced a sanitary “catastrophe” from mass burials in shallow pits throughout the destroyed city, as well as damage to sewer systems. Vadim Boychenko said that the summer rains threaten to pollute water sources, as he insisted on Russian forces to allow residents to leave the city safely.
“In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe created by (Russian) occupiers and collaborators, the city is on the verge of an outbreak of infectious diseases,” he told Telegram.
McQueen reported from Lviv. Stashevsky reported from Kyiv. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanov from Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Francis D’Emilia in Rome and other AP staff around the world.
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