Russia’s parliament is considering exempting fighters from Ukraine’s Azov regiment from a prisoner swap. This emerges from a Telegram service broadcasting from the Duma. The Tass news agency quotes Duma chief Vyacheslav Volodin as saying that Nazi criminals should not be exchanged.
Russia accuses Ukraine of tolerating right-wing extremists as part of its army with the regiment. In fact, the force was known to have had them in their ranks. However, experts assume that this has changed in recent years. The regiment was instrumental in defending the port city of Mariupol.
After months of bitter fighting for the city, it recently looked as if Ukraine would give up its last bastion there, leaving Russian troops in control of the largely devastated port city. The Ukrainian military announced on Tuesday that they would seek a complete evacuation of the Azovstal plant. The facility had become a symbol of the resistance in Mariupol because Ukrainian fighters had holed up there for weeks.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced on Facebook that the evacuation of 53 seriously wounded soldiers had begun. They were taken to a hospital in Novoazovsk. The city is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
More than 200 other soldiers were also brought to Olenivka, which is also under Russian control. They are later to be taken to Ukraine-controlled territory as part of a prisoner swap. Further measures were taken to save the units in the steel mill.
Meanwhile, the Russian military says it has captured 265 Ukrainian fighters from the steelworks 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. So the numbers differ slightly from the information from Kyiv.
The Russian ministry also released a video purporting to show the Ukrainians being arrested, receiving medical treatment, and the evacuation of the injured. The Russian military initially left open whether the prisoner exchange hoped for by Kyiv would actually take place.
A commander of the Ukrainian troops trapped there had previously explained in a video that he was carrying out orders from the high command to save the lives of the soldiers. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army posted a statement on Facebook that the Supreme Military Command had ordered the commanders of the units stationed at the Azov Steel Plant to save the lives of personnel. “The Mariupol garrison has fulfilled its combat mission.”
The defenders are heroes and have gone down in history forever. Their resistance prevented the planned rapid conquest of Zaporizhia. By tying down enemy forces, Ukraine was given the opportunity to build up defensive lines. “We were left with a critical time to build up reserves, regroup troops and gain support from partners.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address posted to Facebook during the night that it was not an easy day. However, Ukraine needs its heroes alive. “Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the secret service, as well as the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we hope that we will be able to save our boys’ lives.”