Troops defending the Mariupol Steel Works were registered as prisoners of war

Kyiv – Fearing Russian reprisals, hundreds of Ukrainian militants who surrendered after the relentless attack on the Mariupol steel factory were registered as prisoners of war and the Ukrainian president vowed to seek international help to save them.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had collected personal information from hundreds of the soldiers – names, dates of birth, closest relatives – and registered them as prisoners, as part of its role in ensuring humane treatment of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Amnesty International said in a tweet that POW status means the soldiers “shall not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment.”

More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday, Russian authorities said, in what appears to be the final phase of the nearly three-month siege on the now pulverized port city.


At least some of the fighters were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in an area controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Others were hospitalized, according to a Separatist official.

But an unknown number stayed in the tangle of bunkers and tunnels in the sprawling facility.

In a short video message, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, which led the defense of the steel plant, said he and other fighters were still inside.

“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not disclose,” said Svyatoslav Palamar.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised to ask for the world’s help.

“I’m doing everything I can to ensure that the most influential international forces are informed and involved as much as possible in the rescue of our troops,” he said.

While Ukraine expressed hope for a prisoner swap, Russian authorities threatened to investigate and try some of the Azovstal militants for war crimes, branding them “Nazis” and criminals.


The Azov regiment’s far-right origins were seized on by the Kremlin to portray the Russian invasion as a fight against Nazi influence in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a captured Russian soldier at Ukraine’s first war crimes trial testified that he shot an unarmed civilian in the head on orders from an officer, and he begged the victim’s widow for forgiveness. The soldier pleaded guilty earlier this week, but prosecutors presented the evidence against him in accordance with Ukrainian law.

Two other Russian soldiers appeared in court on Thursday in the Poltava region on war crimes charges for shooting at civilians. Prosecutors said both had pleaded guilty. The next court session in her case has been set for May 26.

Also, more US aid to Ukraine appeared to be on the way as the Senate overwhelmingly approved a $40 billion package of military and economic aid to the country and its allies. Parliament voted in favor of it last week. President Joe Biden’s quick signature was certain.


“Help is on the way, really significant help. Aid that could ensure Ukrainians win,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Taking the Azovstal Steel Plant would allow Russia to claim complete control of Mariupol and achieve a long-awaited victory. But at this point it would be a mainly symbolic victory, as the city is already effectively in Moscow’s hands and analysts say most Russian forces tied down by the battle there have already left.

Kiev’s troops, backed by Western weapons, thwarted Russia’s initial aim of storming the capital Kyiv and put up a fierce resistance to Moscow forces in the Donbass, the eastern industrial region that President Vladimir Putin intends to conquer.

The surprising success of the Ukrainian troops has boosted Kiev’s self-confidence.


Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyi who has been involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said in a tweet addressed to Moscow: “Don’t offer us a ceasefire – it’s impossible without the complete withdrawal of Russian troops.”

“Until Russia is ready to fully liberate the occupied territories, our negotiating team consists of arms, sanctions and money,” he wrote.

However, Russia has again signaled its intention to exert, or at least maintain, influence over the territories captured by its troops.

Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin this week visited the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, large parts of which have been under the control of Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began in February. He was quoted by Russian news outlets as saying the regions could become part of “our Russian family”.

Volodymyr Saldo, the Kremlin-appointed head of the Kherson region, also appeared in a video on Telegram and said that Kherson will “become a subject of the Russian Federation.”


In other developments, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Russian counterpart by phone on Thursday for the first time since the war began, and they agreed to keep lines of communication open, the Pentagon said.

On the battlefield, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces pushed their offensive in different sectors of the front in Donbas, but were repulsed. The Luhansk region governor said Russian shelling killed four civilians, while separatist authorities in Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed two.

Zelenskyi said 12 people were killed and dozens others injured in the city of Severodonetsk, and attacks on the northeastern Chernihiv region included a heavy attack on the village of Desna, where many more died and rescuers were still walking through the rubble.

On the Russian side of the border, the governor of Kursk province said a truck driver was killed by shelling from Ukraine.


At the war crimes trial in Kyiv, Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a Russian armored unit, told the court he shot Oleksandr Shelipov, a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, in the head on orders from an officer.

Shishimarin said he disobeyed an initial order but had no choice but to comply when repeated by another officer. He said he was told the man could pinpoint the location of the troops to Ukrainian forces.

A prosecutor has denied that Shishimarin acted under orders, saying the order did not come from a direct commander.

Shishimarin apologized to the victim’s widow, Kateryna Shelipova, who described how her husband was shot dead right outside their home in the early days of the Russian invasion.

She told the court that she believes Shishimarin deserves life imprisonment, the maximum possible, but that she wouldn’t mind if he were swapped for Azovstal’s defenders as part of a swap.



McQuillan reported from Lemberg. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, and Aamer Madhani in Washington, along with other AP staffers around the world, contributed.


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Joel McCord

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