Ukrainian officials are seeking a prisoner exchange for fighters who left the Russian city of Mariupol under a compromise surrender. But some Russian officials are now hinting that a swap may not be certain.
With at least 260 fighters, many seriously injured and lying on stretchers, Kyiv on Monday declared an end to the fighting there, ending the defense of their week-long blockaded installation. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that 694 more Ukrainian fighters had left the plant in the past day.
While Ukraine has said it is discussing subtle removal, there is uncertainty about the fate of the fighters who escaped from the plant’s underground network, after Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk indicated that “Russian prisoners of war will be exchanged if their condition stabilizes.”
The bloody battle for Mariupol is over; Azvestal fighters have been evacuated
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Ukrainian authorities have previously said that about 1,000 fighters were hiding inside.
On Wednesday, a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine whose forces are fighting Moscow said a court should decide the fate of fighters who dropped their weapons, including “those who appear to be nationalists.” Isolated territory. He told reporters that there were plans to demolish the collapsed steel plant.
Denis Pushlin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, added that top Ukrainian commanders had not yet left the Azovustal holdout.
His comments came after a pushback from some Russian officials about the possibility of a swap. In Moscow, the speaker of the Russian State Duma, or lower house, Bachelaslav Volodin, said on Tuesday that Ukrainian “Nazi criminals” should not be part of the exchange, when a lawmaker proposed banning a swap. Russian investigators say they will interrogate Ukrainian troops for alleged crimes. And Russian news agencies have reported that the prosecutor general has asked the country’s top court to designate the Azov Regiment as a terrorist group.
On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that treatment of Mariupol fighters would be “consistent with relevant international law”.
Russia’s top leadership has not yet commented on the possibility of a change.
People evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant described the brutality of the long siege
After a dam that pushes the city, the Kremlin described the exodus of fighters from Mariupol as a victory. Those who made it from the plant described surviving blockage in a fetal bunker without sunlight, as food and water supplies were reduced.
Russia has been advancing on most parts of Mariupol for weeks. Located on the Azov Sea, the city helps secure a strategic land bridge from the Russian border to Crimea, which was connected to the Black Sea Peninsula in 2014.
Ukrainian officials have credited the Mariupol fighters and their desperate last stand, tying Russian forces to the war for weeks, blocking progress elsewhere.
What happened in the city of Mariupol, Russia besieged and occupied?
Some pro-Russian social media users have denounced Kiev as a propaganda victory or a deal to remove the fighters, calling for their removal. When the Kremlin waged war against Ukraine in an attempt to “de-Nazify” the country, legitimizing the Ukrainian government as a fascist, it was referring in part to the nationalist Azov Regiment.
According to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, before the withdrawal, Moscow may have raised expectations that Russian forces would destroy Ukrainian forces outside Mariupol. “It may be difficult for some Russians to reconcile the winning message with the abrupt negotiations leading to a compromise surrender,” it wrote in a daily assessment.
Annabel Chapman and Amar Nadir contributed to this report.