According to the Russian military, 265 Ukrainian militants from the Azov steelworks in Mariupol have been captured since Monday. “In the past 24 hours, 265 militants, including 51 seriously injured, laid down their arms and took themselves into captivity,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday.
The figures differ slightly from the information from Kyiv. There was previously talk of 264 prisoners – including 53 seriously injured. The Russian ministry also released a video purporting to show the Ukrainians being arrested, receiving medical treatment, and the evacuation of the injured.
All the injured were taken to the Novoazovsk hospital, Konashenkov said. Novoazovsk is east of Mariupol, directly on the border with Russia, in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. He gave no information on the whereabouts of the other prisoners. According to Ukrainian reports, they drove to the village of Olenivka near the front line.
The seriously injured would soon be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote in the Telegram news service on Tuesday. The Russian military initially left open whether the prisoner exchange hoped for by Kyiv would actually take place.
The head of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, spoke out against a general exchange of prisoners. “Nazi criminals are not subject to exchange. These are war criminals and we must do everything we can to bring them to justice,” the Duma chief said at a plenary session on Tuesday.
Some of the last remaining Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol belong to the nationalist Azov regiment. In Moscow, Azov is repeatedly used as a justification for the war against Ukraine, which aims, among other things, to allegedly “denazify” the neighboring country. However, experts regard the claim that the entire Ukrainian army is dominated by “Nazis” as an untenable pretext.
Parliament leader Volodin stressed that Russia is doing everything possible to provide medical care and humane treatment to injured Ukrainian prisoners. “But as for the Nazis, our position must remain firm because that is one of the objectives of the military special operation,” he said.
Russian negotiator Leonid Slutski even said on Tuesday that the fighters of the Azov regiment have no right to life. Russia should consider the death penalty for these nationalist militants, Slutski said. “They do not deserve to live in the face of the monstrous human rights crimes they have committed and continue to commit against our prisoners.”
Efforts to rescue the last remaining Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol are continuing, according to information from Kyiv. “We are working on further stages of the humanitarian operation,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.
“Thanks to the Mariupol defenders, we got critically important time to form reserves, redeploy forces and receive help from our partners,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maljar wrote on Facebook on Monday evening.
All tasks to defend Mariupol have been completed. It was not possible for Azovstal to fight free, she emphasized. The most important thing now is to protect the lives of the Mariupol defenders. The Russian Defense Ministry had previously spoken of a ceasefire for the evacuation. Several hundred soldiers are said to still be in the steelworks.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized in his daily video address that Ukraine needs its heroes alive. In addition to Ukrainian authorities, the International Red Cross and the United Nations were also involved in the evacuation of the soldiers from the steelworks.
The port city of Mariupol was surrounded shortly after the Russian invasion in February. The strategically important city was exposed to heavy bombing and rocket attacks. Experts and Ukrainian authorities assume thousands of civilian deaths. Russian troops gradually took control after the siege. However, the last Ukrainian defenders of the city holed up in the huge steelworks with several underground floors.
The Russian troops did not risk any storming attempts, but sealed off all entrances. “Block this industrial zone so that not even a fly comes out,” Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin instructed his military in front of the camera. The area was repeatedly bombed. Hundreds of civilians who also fled to the steelworks from advancing Russian troops had already been evacuated from the factory premises in the past few days.