Russian-Ukrainian war: the Red Cross registers hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Mariupol

KYIV, Ukraine — The Russian military said Thursday that more Ukrainian fighters making a last stand in Mariupol have surrendered, bringing the total number of those who left their stronghold to 1,730, while the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of them as prisoners of war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said registrations of Ukrainian prisoners of war, which included wounded combatants, began on Tuesday as part of an agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

The Geneva-based aid agency, which has experience dealing with prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges, however said its team had not transported the fighters to “the places where they are being held” – which was not specified.

The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the crumbling steelworks of Azovstal after being ordered by their army to abandon the last bastion of resistance in the now razed port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

While Ukraine has said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia has threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

The Red Cross cited rules under the Geneva Conventions that should allow the organization to interview prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted”.

The organization did not specify how many prisoners of war were involved.

It is also not known how many fighters remain at the factory. Russia had previously estimated that it had fought off some 2,000 troops at the waterside factory.

Denis Pushilin, a senior Russian-backed separatist in an area that includes Mariupol, said Ukrainian soldiers who needed medical assistance were hospitalized while others were placed in a detention center. He also claimed that representatives of the Red Cross had been authorized to inspect the detention center, but this could not immediately be verified.

Amnesty International said earlier that the Red Cross should have immediate access to Mariupol fighters who have surrendered. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited illegal executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said Azovstal defenders “must not suffer the same fate”.

Despite the Mariupol setback, Ukraine’s confidence grew after it fought the Russian offensive to an effective halt and forced Moscow to withdraw from the vicinity of kyiv and reduce its military objectives.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who has been involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said in a tweet on Thursday that at this stage “don’t offer us a ceasefire – it’s impossible without a total withdrawal of Russian troops”.

“Until Russia is ready to completely liberate the occupied territories, our negotiating team is made up of weapons, sanctions and money,” he tweeted.

Ukraine’s military said in its morning briefing on Thursday that Russian forces were continuing their offensive on various sections of the eastern front, but were being successfully repelled.

Ukraine’s military made no mention of Mariupol during its morning briefing on Thursday, saying only that Russian forces were still continuing their offensive on various sections of the eastern front, but were being successfully repelled.

In the eastern region of Donbass, which has been the center of recent fighting as Russian forces on the offensive faced fierce Ukrainian resistance, four civilians were killed in the town of Sievierodonetsk in a Russian bombardment, said the governor of Lugansk, Serhiy Haidai. Three other civilians were injured in Wednesday’s attack, and shelling continued early Thursday, Haidai said.

On the Russian side of the border, the governor of Kursk province said a truck driver had been killed and several other civilians injured in shelling from Ukraine. Separatist authorities in the eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region said two civilians were killed and five also injured in Ukrainian shelling in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial, a captured Russian soldier pleaded guilty on Wednesday to killing a civilian and faces possible life in prison.

The factory was the only thing preventing Russia from declaring the complete capture of Mariupol. Its fall would make Mariupol the largest Ukrainian city to be taken by forces from Moscow, giving Putin a boost in a war where many of his plans went awry.

Military analysts, however, said capturing the city at this point would have more symbolic significance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were bound by the endless fights are already gone.

The video showed the Ukrainian fighters executing their wounded on stretchers and undergoing pat-down searches before being taken to buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin “Z” sign.

The United States has collected intelligence that shows some Russian officials are concerned that Kremlin forces in Mariupol are committing abuses, including beating city officials, subjecting them to electric shocks and robbing homes, according to a US official familiar with the findings.

Russian officials fear the abuse will further spur residents to resist the occupation and that the treatment will run counter to Russia’s claims that its military freed Russian-speakers, according to the official, who was not not allowed to comment.

In the kyiv war crimes case, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old unarmed Ukrainian in the head through a car window in the early days of the war. Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said about 40 more war crimes cases were being prepared.

Diplomatically, Finland and Sweden could become NATO members within months, although objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten to disrupt matters. Turkey accuses the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.

Ibrahim Kalin, foreign policy adviser and spokesman for Erdogan, said there would be “no progress” on membership applications unless Turkey’s concerns were met. Each of the 30 NATO countries has an effective right of veto over new members.

The defenders of Mariupol clung to the steelworks for months against all odds, preventing Russia from completing its occupation of the city and its port.

Mariupol was a Russian target from the start as Moscow sought to open a land corridor from its territory to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

The city – its pre-war population of around 430,000 now reduced by around three-quarters – has been largely reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says more than 20,000 civilians there were killed.

For Ukraine, the order for fighters to surrender could leave President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government open to allegations that it has abandoned troops it has described as heroes.

“Zelenskyy may face some nasty questions,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, who runs independent think tank Penta in Kyiv. “There were voices of discontent and accusations of treason by Ukrainian soldiers.”

A hoped-for prisoner swap could also fail, he warned.

Russia’s top federal investigative body said it intended to interview the troops who surrendered to “identify nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.

In addition, Russia’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate the Ukrainian Azov regiment – among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison – as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the extreme right.

The Russian parliament was due to consider a resolution banning the exchange of fighters from the Azov regiment, but did not address the issue on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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