Ukrainian resistances in Mariupol surrender to an uncertain fate

KIEV, Ukraine – Hundreds of diehard Ukrainian soldiers who had taken the last stand against Russian forces from a Mariupol steel mill faced an uncertain future on Tuesday in Kremlin custody after the Ukrainian army ordered them to surrender.

Surrender directive, issued late Monday, took soldiers prisoner and ended the baby’s longest battle to date by nearly three months. Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Although Russia struggled on other battle fronts, the surrender at Mariupol solidified one of Russia’s few significant territorial achievements: the conquest of a once thriving southeastern port. The surrender also provided Russian state media with the ingredients. to claim that his side was winning.

However, Mariupol has largely been reduced to ruins, Ukrainian officials say more than 20,000 inhabitants they were killed and the city became the symbol of the grotesque horrors of war.

Earlier on Tuesday, many of the fighters housed in a maze of shelters beneath the Azovstal Steel Mill, a Soviet-era complex defeated by the Russians for weeks, had emerged and surrendered. They were transported to Russian-controlled territory on buses bearing the “Z” – the Russian emblem for what President Vladimir V. Putin called his country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities said little about the terms of the surrender other than to claim that the Ukrainian fighters were heroes and that as prisoners they would soon be exchanged for Russian prisoners held by Ukraine.

“The only thing that can be said is that the Ukrainian state is doing everything possible and impossible” to save the soldiers, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

But Russian officials said nothing about an exchange, rather, they raised the prospect that at least some of the prisoners would be treated as war criminals.

The Russian investigative committee, the country’s equivalent of the FBI, said on Tuesday that investigators will interrogate captured fighters to “check their involvement in crimes committed against civilians.”

And the Attorney General’s Office has asked the Russian Supreme Court to declare the military unit to which most of the captured fighters belong, the Azov Battalion, a terrorist organization. The Russian media exploited the Azov battalion’s links with far-right movements to provide a veneer of credibility to the Kremlin’s false claims that Russian forces were fighting the Nazis in Ukraine.

Russian threats against the prisoners raised questions about the feasibility of the terms Ukraine had negotiated with Moscow for surrender and whether the hundreds of troops still remaining inside the steel plant would comply with the agreement.

News of Ukraine’s order to surrender to its fighters, widely viewed nationwide as heroes who have looked down on deprivation and doom, has been greeted with anxiety in the country, where antipathy towards the Russia only increased after the war.

Many expressed fears that Mariupol’s last defenders would suffer as prisoners of Russia, although certain death within the steel mills was the most likely alternative.

“I am waiting for news and I pray,” said Natalia Zarytska, who was part of a delegation of wives and mothers of men within Azovstal, who had asked for the intervention of Turkey, which has good relations with both Russia and with Ukraine, to ensure a safe escape route for loved ones.

The Ukrainian government tried to exalt the valor of the fighters, who refused to surrender to the order.

“83 days of defense of Mariupol will go down in history as the Thermopylae of the 21st century”, Mykhailo Podolyak, one of the top advisors of President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Twitterreferring to the Battle of 480 BC in which an outnumbered force of Greeks faced a much larger Persian army. He said Azovstal’s defenders had “ruined” Russia’s plan to capture eastern Ukraine and “completely changed the course of the war.”

However, the fate of the captured soldiers could create political problems for Mr. Zelensky, whose leadership during the war increased his popularity at home and in friendly Western countries.

Mr. Putin could also face an embarrassing decision on the release of any of the prisoners, even in a prisoner exchange, as he has repeatedly tried to throw Azov battalion members as Nazis. Their repatriation could undermine that fictional narrative.

Ukraine’s decision to stop armed defense at the plant seemed to put an end to the last trace of resistance that prevented Russia from fully controlling a swathe of southeastern Ukraine extending from the Russian border to the Crimean peninsula, which was seized from Russia eight years ago.

Developments in the south underscore the amount of territory Moscow has conquered and suggest that Ukrainian forces will face serious challenges in trying to recapture it. At the same time, the Ukrainian military has been buoyed by its successes against Russian forces elsewhere, so the prospects for a negotiated deal have diminished.

Both sides recognize this the talks basically collapsed among the publicly broadcast recriminations.

Along a route stretching more than 500 miles from Luhansk in the east to Kherson on the Black Sea, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces were building defensive positions, installing Kremlin loyal governments and taking steps to “Russify” the population. .

In Zaporizhzhia, a region west of Mariupol, the Ukrainian army said Russian forces were destroying roads and bridges to slow down Ukrainian counterattacks. Moscow troops also erected concrete barriers and dug trenches around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar, which Russia seized in the first month of the war, the Ukrainian nuclear company said.

In the Russian-occupied Kherson region, the nation’s agricultural heartland, Ukrainians have been engaged in counterattacks for weeks, slowly trying to regain lost ground, but have not yet launched a major offensive.

The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday evening that Russia is taking steps to prepare for a long-term military occupation. “The war is entering a prolonged phase,” the defense ministry said in a statement. “Let’s see how in the Kherson region, in the Zaporizhzhia region, the Russian invaders are actively carrying out engineering and fortification works to switch to defense if necessary.”

However, Ukrainian forces, backed by a growing flow of heavy weapons from Western allies, have staged fierce resistance on other battle fronts, pushing Russian forces first from the capital, Kiev, and in the last days from the northeastern city. of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that more than 50 “badly injured” Mariupol fighters were transported to a hospital in Novoazovsk, a Ukrainian city near the Russian border that is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Another 211 people were evacuated via a humanitarian corridor to Olenivka, also under Russian control.

Ukrainian officials said the soldiers would be returned to the territory held by Ukraine “according to an exchange procedure”.

However, it was unclear who ensured the security of the military and whether a procedure had been agreed before the evacuation began.

“Those 211 people who have been evacuated to Olenivka, their fate is key to negotiating right now,” said Kira Rudik, a member of parliament and leader of the Holos party involved in the negotiations on Azovstal on Tuesday afternoon.

In recent days, Western countries have reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and against Russian interests.

On Tuesday, leaders from Sweden and Finland said they would do it together submit an application for membership in the NATO alliance this week and will visit Washington to meet with President Biden, who strongly supports their plans.

In Brussels, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen urged the nations of the European Union to increase their spending on Ukraine to help it cope with the economic crisis and the reconstruction that will be needed due to the Russian invasion.

“Our joint efforts are crucial in helping to ensure that Ukrainian democracy prevails over Putin’s aggression,” Ms. Yellen said, in the midst of a week-long trip to Europe, at the Brussels Economic Forum.

Congress has already approved a $ 13.6 billion emergency spending package for Ukraine and should approve a further $ 40 billion in aid.

Valerie Hopkins reported from Kiev, Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Rick Gladstone from New York. The reporting was provided by Alan Rappeport of Brussels, Safak Timur of Istanbul and Johanna Lemola of Helsinki.