Fate of 2,500 Ukrainian POWs from steel plant stirs concern

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Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they were evacuated from the besieged Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant. AP

With Russia claiming to have taken prisoner nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the besieged Mariupol steel plant, concerns grew about their fate as a Moscow-backed separatist leader vowed they would face tribunals.

Russia has declared its full control of the Azovstal steel plant, which for weeks was the last holdout in Mariupol and a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the strategic port city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 residents feared dead. The seizure gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began nearly three months ago.


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As the West rallies behind Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced visit and will address the country’s parliament on Sunday, his office said.

Poland, which has welcomed 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 blocking Ukraine’s sea ports, Poland has become a major gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons going into Ukraine and has been helping Ukraine get its grain and other agricultural products to world markets.

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Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they were transported to a prison in Olyonivka. AP

The Russian Defense Ministry released video of Ukrainian soldiers being detained after announcing that its forces had removed the last holdouts from the Mariupol plant’s extensive underground tunnels. It said a total of 2,439 had surrendered.

Family members of the fighters, who came from a variety of military and law enforcement units, have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday that Ukraine “will fight for the return” of every one of them.

Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, said the captured fighters included some foreign nationals, though he did not provide details. He said they were sure to face a tribunal. Russian officials and state media have sought to characterize the fighters as neo-Nazis and criminals.

“I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community,” Russian state news agency Tass quoted Pushilin as saying.

Among the defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of its effort to cast the invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.

Associated Press

 

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