Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – The fate of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who surrendered after withstanding punitive attacks on the Mariupol steel plant Thursday has been halted amid international fears that the Russians may take retaliatory measures against the prisoners.
The ICRC has collected personal information from hundreds of soldiers – name, date of birth and relatives – and registered them as prisoners of war, as part of its role in ensuring the humane treatment of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
Amnesty International said in a tweet on Twitter that Ukrainian soldiers are now prisoners of war and therefore “should not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment”.
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday, Russian authorities said, in what appears to be the final stage of a nearly three-month siege of the now-destroyed port city.
The Russians moved at least some of the fighters to a former penal colony in an area controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Others were taken to hospital, according to a separatist official.
But an unknown number remained in the bunkers of bunkers and tunnels in the sprawling factory.
And in a short video message, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, who commanded the defense of the steel plant, said that he and other fighters were still inside.
“There is an ongoing process, and I will not announce its details,” said Svyatoslav Ballamar.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said he is working to ensure that “the most influential international forces are informed and participate, as far as possible, in saving our forces.”
While Ukraine hoped for a prisoner exchange, the Russian authorities threatened to investigate some Azovstal fighters for war crimes and bring them to trial, calling them “Nazis” and criminals.
The Kremlin seized the far-right assets of the Azov Regiment as part of an attempt to portray the Russian invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the first war crimes trial Held by Ukraine, a captured Russian soldier testified that he shot an unarmed civilian in the head on the orders of an officer, and asked the victim’s widow to forgive him. The soldier pleaded guilty earlier in the week, but prosecutors presented evidence against him in line with Ukrainian law.
In the Poltava region, two other Russian soldiers appeared in court Thursday accused of war crimes of bombing civilians. Prosecutors said both pleaded guilty. The next hearing in their case is set for May 26.
Also, more US aid He seemed to be on his way to Ukraine when the Senate overwhelmingly approved a $40 billion package of military and economic aid to the country and its allies. The House voted for it last week. The swift signature of President Joe Biden was assured.
“Help is on the way, really big help. Help that can ensure the Ukrainians win,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The capture of the Azovstal steel plant would allow Russia to claim complete control of Mariupol and secure a long-awaited victory. But it would be a mostly symbolic victory at this point, because the city is already in Moscow’s hands and analysts say most of the Russian forces tied up in the battle there have already left.
Kyiv forces, backed by Western weapons, thwarted Russia’s initial goal of storming the capital, Kyiv, They formed stiff resistance against Russian forces in Donbass, the eastern industrial region that President Vladimir Putin had set his sights on capturing.
The sudden success of the Ukrainian forces boosted Kyiv’s confidence.
“Do not offer us a ceasefire – this is impossible without the complete withdrawal of Russian forces,” said Mikhailo Podolak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who has taken part in several rounds of talks with Russia, in a tweet directed at Moscow.
“Until Russia is ready to completely liberate the occupied territories, our negotiating team is arms, sanctions and money,” he wrote.
However, Russia once again indicated its intention to integrate or at least maintain its influence in the areas captured by its forces.
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khosnolin this week visited Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, large parts of which were under the control of Russian forces since shortly after the start of the invasion in February. He was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that the territories could become part of our “Russian family”.
Also, Volodymyr Saldo, the head of the Kherson region installed by the Kremlin, appeared in a video on Telegram saying that Kherson “will become a subject of the Russian Federation.”
In other developments, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone Thursday with his Russian counterpart for the first time since the war began, and they agreed to keep lines of communication open, according to the Pentagon. .
On the battlefield, the Ukrainian army said that Russian forces intensified their offensive in various sections of the front in Donbass but were repelled. The governor of the Luhansk region said that the Russian shelling killed four civilians, while the separatist authorities in Donetsk said that the Ukrainian shelling had killed two.
Zelensky said 12 people were killed and dozens wounded in the city of Severodonetsk, and the attacks on the northeastern Chernihiv region included a violent assault on the village of Desna, with many killed and rescue workers still passing through the rubble.
On the Russian side of the border, the governor of the Kursk region said a truck driver was killed by shelling from Ukraine.
At the war crimes trial in KyivSgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a Russian tank unit, told the court that he shot Oleksandr Shelepov, a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, in the head on orders from an officer.
Shishimarin said he disobeyed the first order but felt he had no choice but to comply when another officer repeated it. He said he was told the man could locate troops for Ukrainian forces.
The prosecutor questioned that Shishimarin was acting on orders, saying the directions did not come from a direct commander.
Shishimarin apologized to the victim’s widow, Katerina Shelipova, who described seeing her husband being shot outside their home in the early days of the Russian invasion.
She told the court that she believed Shishimarin deserved a life sentence, to the fullest extent possible, but that she would not mind if he was replaced as part of the Azovstal defender’s swap.
McQuillan reported from Lviv. Associated Press reporters Juras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Amer Madani in Washington and other AP staffers around the world contributed.
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