Tensions over captured fighters in Mariupol as Russia threatens possible trials | CBC News


Updates from day 84 of the war

Nearly 1,000 last-minute Ukrainian fighters who had held out inside Mariupol’s pulverized steel plant have surrendered, Russia said on Wednesday, as the battle that turned the city into a global symbol of defiance and suffering drew to a close.

Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be tried by Ukraine on war crimes charges has pleaded guilty to killing a civilian and faces life in prison. And Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, abandoning generations of neutrality for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.

An aerial view of the central district of the port city of Mariupol on Wednesday. (Andrey Borodoulin/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruins of the Azovstal steel mill after being ordered by their military to abandon the last bastion of resistance in the now-ravaged 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 prosecute some of them for war crimes.

Amnesty International said the Red Cross must have immediate access to the fighters.

A cat walks through part of the damaged steel plant in Mariupol on Wednesday. The city, whose pre-war population was about 430,000, is now down by about three-quarters, largely reduced to rubble by relentless bombing. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited unlawful executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said Azovstal defenders “should not suffer the same fate.”

Symbolic importance for Russia

It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s maze of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be hiding at one point. A separatist leader in the region said no senior officials had left the mill.

CLOCK | Steel mill soldiers face an uncertain future:

Uncertain fate for Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from Mariupol plant

The weeks-long siege of the Mariupol steel plant by Russian forces has ended, with the remaining Ukrainian soldiers surrendering from their last stronghold in the city. Ukraine says its soldiers will be swapped in a prison swap, but the Kremlin accuses them of being war criminals and promises to take them to court.

The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring total capture of Mariupol. His fall would make Mariupol the largest Ukrainian city to be taken by Moscow’s forces, giving Putin a boost in a war in which many of his plans have gone awry.

Military analysts, however, said that capturing the city at this point would have more symbolic importance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control, and most of the Russian forces that were tied up by the protracted fighting is already gone.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian soldiers have left the stronghold since they began leaving on Monday.

The video showed fighters carrying their wounded on stretchers and subjecting them to body searches before being taken away on buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin “Z” sign.

A Ukrainian main battle tank drives down a street in Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday, during a nearby mortar shell. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

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

Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will further inspire residents to resist the occupation and run counter to Russia’s claims that its military has freed Russian-speakers, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment.

Potential political concerns for Kyiv

For Ukraine, the order given to the fighters to surrender could leave the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky exposed to accusations that he abandoned troops he described as heroes.

“Zelensky may face unpleasant questions,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, who heads the independent Penta think tank in kyiv. “There have been voices of discontent and accusations of treason against the Ukrainian soldiers.”

A long-awaited prisoner swap could also fail, he warned.

Russia’s top federal investigative body said it intends to question surrendering troops to “identify nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.

In addition, Russia’s top prosecutor petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to designate Ukraine’s 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 scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of Azov Regiment fighters, but did not address the issue on Wednesday.

Rescuers work Wednesday at the site of an apartment building destroyed by Russian bombardment in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Andriy Andriyenko/The Associated Press)

Mariupol has been a target of the Russians since the beginning of the war, which began on February 24. The city, whose prewar population of around 430,000 is now down by about three-quarters, has been largely reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment. and Ukraine says more than 20,000 civilians have been killed there.

During the siege, Russian forces launched deadly airstrikes on a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians had taken refuge. As many as 600 people may have died in the theater.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine’s defense of Mariupol “inflicted costly manpower losses” on Russian forces.

Men walk past a building Wednesday in Soledar, Ukraine, after it was damaged by Russian shelling. (Andriy Andriyenko/The Associated Press)

Speaking Wednesday night in his late-night video address, Zelensky commented on Moscow’s recent claims to have deployed new laser weapons in Ukraine. He said those claims reflected a desire to find an alternative to missiles and compared them to Nazi Germany’s claims of wunderwaffeor wonder weapons, as the tide began to turn against them during World War II.

A senior US defense official said Wednesday that the US has seen nothing to corroborate the claims. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment.

Zelensky also said that Ukraine is determined to retake the southern cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, Enerhodar and Mariupol.

“All our cities and communities under occupation … should know that Ukraine will return,” he said.

A man sits next to his horse during a mortar shelling in nearby Severodonetsk on Wednesday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Reported armored train attack

Ukraine’s territorial defense force said on Wednesday that Ukrainian fighters blew up an armored train carrying Russian troops in the occupied southern city of Melitopol.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the claim. The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region is located in a belt of land in southern Ukraine that was occupied by Russian forces after the invasion.

Ukraine’s Territorial Defense, the reservist branch of the armed forces, said an explosive device detonated directly under a carriage carrying military personnel.

His statement, posted on Facebook, did not elaborate on the extent of the damage.

US reopens embassy

In other developments, the US embassy reopened in kyiv on Wednesday, a month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed.

A dozen embassy employees solemnly watched as the American flag was raised.

“The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland against Russia’s inconceivable invasion, and as a result, the Stars and Stripes fly over the embassy once again,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. a statement. .

Other Western countries have also been reopening their embassies in kyiv.

Russia, for its part, moved to expel 85 Spanish, French and Italian diplomats. Russia and a number of European countries have been throwing out diplomats since the invasion.

The United Nations chief said Wednesday that he is in “intense contact” with Russia and other countries to stop the escalation of world hunger exacerbated by the war in Ukraine by allowing the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and ensuring that food and Russian fertilizers have unrestricted access to the world. markets.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he is hopeful after talks with Moscow, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States, the European Union and other key countries.

Guterres said Ukraine and Russia together produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, and Russia and its ally Belarus are the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 producers of potash, a key ingredient in fertilizers. Canada is the world main producer of potash.

The secretary-general said the number of people facing severe food insecurity had doubled in just two years.

A woman walks her dog outside the US embassy in kyiv on Wednesday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)



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