For weeks, Ukrainian fighters entrenched themselves in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. This week, Russia announced that it had taken full control of the steelworks.
A video from the Russian Defense Ministry is now circulating online showing the last prisoners of Mariupol. The ministry presents the Azov fighters like a trophy: the men with beards stand in rank and file against the backdrop of the Azovstal steel works. Their faces are bleached out after weeks without sun in the bunkers of the industrial zone.
Selenski criticizes West for insufficient arms deliveries
State television in Moscow raves about an “unprecedented operation” – to “liberate” the steelworks and the complete takeover of the strategically important port city.
Russian photos of the men and women are also circulating on the Ukrainian Internet. The joy of their rescue outweighs the sadness of the defeat. The loss of the largely destroyed city is Ukraine’s heaviest loss to date.
The city, which once had almost 500,000 inhabitants, has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russia for weeks. That is now over – also because, from the point of view of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (44), the West did not deliver heavy weapons sooner.
Parents and spouses have been asking for the rescue of the last defenders of Mariupol for days. The pleas of wives and mothers at press conferences, the demonstrations in many countries are omnipresent on the Internet. Moscow then announced on Friday evening that all the soldiers had surrendered and were being cared for. Almost 2,500 Mariupol defenders are said to be in captivity. Her fate remains uncertain.
Will the Azov fighters be killed now?
While Zelensky firmly hopes for a prisoner exchange, many Russian politicians are calling for trials to convict the “Nazi criminals”. There were even calls to kill the fighters.
The Russian media used the moment when the last men and women left the plant to once again brand them as «neo-Nazis». They have to undress in front of the cameras, tattoos can be seen, skulls, Celtic crosses and a swastika as well as a “black sun”, allegedly the nationalists’ identification symbol. If charged with war crimes, prisoners in the pro-Russian separatist-controlled Donetsk Oblast, where Mariupol is located, face the death penalty.
Mariupol is of great symbolic importance for the Azov National Guard Regiment, which was founded by neo-Nazis and nationalists and is still dominated by them. According to the founding myth of the unit, the unit, which was founded by volunteers in early May 2014, liberated the port city, which was then controlled by separatists, less than a month later. “Azov” had previously lost its base in the neighboring port city of Berdyansk.
Kyiv denies defeat
The metropolis is also the last point on the Azov Sea coast that is now completely controlled by Russian forces. This means that the separatist republics of Luhansk and Donzek, which are recognized by Russia, can remain independent. They have access to the world’s oceans – and can export their production independently of Russian land routes via the well-developed largest port in the region via the inexpensive waterway.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, the “enemy” has already started clearing mines to make the port functional again. The military leadership in Kyiv assumes that the pro-Russian forces, with Moscow’s help, are now stepping up their advance in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in order to wrest the entire Donbass completely from Ukrainian control. They are also concerned about a fixed land connection to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
The persistent resistance in Mariupol to Moscow’s invasion has long ensured that, according to Ukrainian sources, a Russian group of up to 20,000 soldiers was tied down with heavy equipment. These Russian soldiers could now bring the decisive advantage for the halting offensive in the direction of Slovjansk or the pocket at Sievjerodonetsk that is becoming apparent.
In Kyiv, however, nobody wants to speak of a defeat. «Azovstal’s Ukrainian defenders, heroes, not to break. Thank you!” said Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dschaparowa on the day of the capitulation. Azov commander Denys Prokopenko resisted giving up for a long time. “Don’t make heroes out of deserters and fighters who voluntarily went into captivity,” says the 30-year-old recently in one of his videos.
Selenski sticks to the prisoner exchange
The officers have repeatedly publicly criticized that the Ukrainian leadership is doing too little to liberate Mariupol. Head of state Selensky, on the other hand, protested in a television interview on Saturday on the third anniversary of his inauguration that he had done everything. He has with Turkey, the Swede
iz, Israel, France, who have a connection to the Russian leadership, “to give our military the appropriate weapons so that we can get to Mariupol by military means to fight these people free”. It did little.
Further events now depend on the United Nations, the Red Cross and Russia, emphasizes Selenski. There should be an exchange of prisoners. “We’ll take her home.” (SDA/dzc)