Fears rise for 2,500 Ukrainian POWs at steel plant Russia calls neo-Nazis
Russia has claimed to have taken nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the besieged Mariupol steelworks prisoner, and concerns are growing over their fate after a Moscow-backed separatist leader vowed they would face justice.
- After weeks of battles, Russia says 2,439 Ukrainian fighters surrendered from Mariupol steelworks
- Russian officials and state media seek to brand fighters neo-Nazis and criminals
- Family members of combatants plead for them to gain rights as prisoners of war
On Saturday, Russia declared full control of the Azovstal steel plant – which for weeks was the last in Mariupol and a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the strategic port city – now in ruins with more than 20 000 inhabitants whose death is feared.
The seizure gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a much-desired victory in the war he started nearly three months ago.
After announcing that its forces had removed the last restraints from the vast underground tunnels of the Mariupol plant, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of detained Ukrainian soldiers.
He said a total of 2,439 had surrendered.
Russian officials and state media have sought to label the fighters as neo-Nazis and criminals.
Family members of the fighters, who came from various military and law enforcement units, pleaded for them to be granted rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday that Ukraine would “fight for the return” of each of them.
Denis Pushilin – the pro-Kremlin leader of an area in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists – said captured fighters included foreign nationals, although he did not provide any details. details.
He said they were sure to face a court.
“I think justice must be restored,” Russian news agency Tass said, quoting Pushilin.
Among the defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins were seized upon by the Kremlin as part of its effort to make the invasion a battle against alleged Nazi influence in Ukraine.
A senior member of the Russian parliament, Leonid Slutsky, said Moscow was exploring the possibility of swapping the Azovstal fighters for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian with close ties to Mr Putin who faces criminal charges in Ukraine, reports Russian news agency Interfax.
Mr. Slutsky then returned to these comments, saying that he agreed with Mr. Pushilin that their fate should be decided by a court.
The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia’s claim to capture Azovstal.
Mariupol facing a health and sanitary “catastrophe”
It is estimated that 100,000 of the 450,000 people who resided in Mariupol before the war remain. Many, trapped by Russia’s siege, were left without food, water and electricity.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol warned that the city was facing a health and sanitation “catastrophe” due to mass burials in shallow graves across the crumbling city as well as the breakdown of sewage systems.
Vadim Boychenko said summer rains threatened to contaminate water sources as he pressed Russian forces to allow residents to safely leave the town.
“In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the [Russian] occupants and collaborators, the city is on the verge of an epidemic of infectious diseases,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
With Russia controlling the city, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the shelling of a maternity ward and theater where hundreds of civilians had gathered. refugees.
Satellite images from April showed what appeared to be mass graves just outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of covering up the massacre by burying up to 9,000 civilians.
Zelenskyy promises reciprocal rights for Poles in Ukraine
Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Ukraine for an unannounced visit and was due to address the country’s parliament on Sunday, his office said.
During the visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Polish citizens in Ukraine would be granted the same rights that Ukrainian refugees in Poland currently enjoy.
Poland granted the right to live, work and claim social security benefits to more than three million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier on Sunday, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the ruling party said Mr Zelenskyy had announced the imminent tabling of a parliamentary bill to grant Polish citizens a “special legal status” in Ukraine.
Poland, which has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war, is a strong supporter of Ukraine’s desire to join the European Union.
With Russia blockading Ukraine’s seaports, Poland has become a major gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons entering Ukraine and helping Ukraine move its grain and other agricultural products to the global markets.
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