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Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the last stand of Mariupol’s steelworks should be executed, Russian MPs and former military commanders said as they urged Vladimir Putin to tear up plans for a prisoner swap.
The siege of Mariupol appeared to be ending after more than 200 fighters, many of them injured, were taken to Russian-controlled towns as part of a negotiated withdrawal.
But hardliners in Russia called for the death penalty for the soldiers, who have been portrayed as Nazis by the Kremlin to justify the invasion.
Leonid Slutsky, a prominent Russian MP, said: “In case their horrendous crimes against humanity are proven, I would like to revive my idea to lift the moratorium on capital punishment in Russia and let the court consider using it.”
Margarita Simonyan, head of Russia's RT news channel, on Tuesday quoted sources saying that the Azovstal fighters have been taken to a Russian jail. There was no other confirmation of the claim.
The fall of Mariupol represents a rare victory for Putin after scaling back his invasion and suffering losses in the eastern Donbas region. However, it has come at a huge cost to resources.
Igor Girkin, a retired Russian military intelligence officer who fought in eastern Ukraine in 2014, joined calls to execute the fighters who fought a bloody battle to keep Mariupol from falling.
He reposted comments online that said: “Azov is one of the best-trained battalions … whose main goal is to eliminate all Russian and Soviet people. That’s why no one of them can stay alive. Not a single one of them.”
Mr Girkin, a retired colonel, said he agreed with “every word” of the comments.
It came as Ukraine praised the soldiers for changing the course of the war.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said the 82-day hold distracted Russian invaders and bought valuable time for the Ukrainian armed forces.
“Azovstal defenders ruined Russia’s plan to capture the east of Ukraine, took a hit on themselves and proved the real combat capability of Ukraine - this completely changed the course of the war,” said Mr Podolyak.
The sprawling Azovstal steelworks was the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. Russian forces captured it last month, after weeks of incessant shelling and air strikes that turned parts of the city into rubble.
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian parliament, told the State Duma on Tuesday that “Nazi criminals” should not be liable for a prisoner swap. He said a bill should be drafted that would make it illegal for Russia to hand over the Azovstal defenders.
“These are war criminals, and we should do our best to get them to face justice,” he said.