Russia says 900 of Ukraine’s Mariupol defenders sent to prison colony

·2-min read
Ukrainian service members as they are searched by pro-Russian military personnel after leaving the Azovstal steel plant  (Russian Defence Ministry/AFP via)
Ukrainian service members as they are searched by pro-Russian military personnel after leaving the Azovstal steel plant (Russian Defence Ministry/AFP via)

More than 900 of Ukraine’s fighters who had been holding out inside Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant have been taken to a prison colony, according to Moscow.

Ukraine had ordered its troops in the plant to stand down in an effort to save their lives, with officials saying they hoped to negotiate swaps for Russian prisoners-of-war.

Moscow said 959 Ukrainian troops had left the stronghold since Monday, and most of them have been taken to a former prison colony in a Russian-controlled town in the Donetsk region.

Their fate remains unclear as Russian officials have refused to say whether they would be treated as prisoners-of-war, and have previously threatened to put them on trial for what it called war crimes.

But Ukraine is hoping to be able to rescue the troops, although it has conceded that it cannot use military means to do so.

“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an early morning address earlier this week. “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”

It is unclear how many of Ukraine’s fighters remain inside the plant’s sprawling miles of tunnels.

Aerial view of damaged residential buildings and the Azovstal steel plant in the background (AFP via Getty Images)
Aerial view of damaged residential buildings and the Azovstal steel plant in the background (AFP via Getty Images)

The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol, which would be the biggest Ukrainian city to be taken by Putin’s forces.

However, the victory would be largely symbolic, as the port city is already effectively under Russian control.

Ukraine’s military made no mention of Mariupol in its early morning briefing Thursday, saying only that Russian forces were still pressing their offensive on various sections of the front in the east of the country, but were being repelled.

Amnesty International said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the Mariupol fighters who surrendered.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, said Azovstal defenders "must not meet the same fate,” as those reportedly summarily executed by Russian forces.

In the first war-crimes trial held by Ukraine, a captured Russian soldier pleaded guilty on Wednesday of killing a civilian and faces a possible life in prison.

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