Both Russians and Ukrainians sing victory after the evacuation of the last Ukrainian combatant redoubt in Mariupol, the city hardest hit in almost three months of war. Moscow considers the strategic city controlled with the “surrender” of the Azov Battalion fighters at the Azovstal steel mill and boasts of its main military victory in 82 days of fighting. Meanwhile, kyiv strengthens its positions, considers the invading troops from the northern region of Kharkiv – which is home to the country’s second largest city – expelled and underlines how the entrenchment has forced the Kremlin to maintain a significant military contingent there that it needed to gain ground. in other parts of Ukraine. Seven buses with evacuees arrived on Tuesday in the town of Olenivka, near Donetsk, as reported by the Reuters agency without specifying the number of people they were transporting.
No one wants to talk about Mariupol and Kharkov as an exchange of trading cards in the war album, but kyiv understands that it would not have been able to rearm and reorganize to regain control in the Kharkov area without a significant volume of Russian troops occupied in the other location. . For this reason, the Ukrainian government flees from the term surrender in Mariupol, in the Donbas area, and where both parties consider the fighting to be over.
Although each one brings the ember to his sardine, the war that began on February 24 is advancing without too many signs of fatigue. At the same time that the details of the evacuation of the first Ukrainian military from the huge metallurgical zone by the Sea of Azov became known, sirens were sounding throughout Ukraine. It was 0.45 in the morning on Tuesday. Several Russian missiles then fell in the west of the country, near the border with Poland. More than 1,000 kilometers from Kharkov and Mariupol. There were no fatalities, but it did serve Moscow to underline, once again, that it knows that the area is the main channel for the supply of weapons from abroad for the local Armed Forces.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said agreeing to leave the troops was the “only solution”. But she hardly wanted to offer details on Tuesday beyond what she gave on Monday night when reporting the evacuation of 264 men – 53 of them seriously wounded – to Ukrainian territory under the command of pro-Russian rebels. The latter left the factory on stretchers on the shoulders of their colleagues, according to images provided by the two opposing countries. The Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, considered the resistance operation profitable and defended the agreement around Azovstal because he prefers his “living heroes”. “Mariupol attracted the forces of the Russian Federation for 82 days” and that “changed the course of the war,” said presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak, explaining that Moscow has had to employ many more resources than expected – some 20,000 men, calculate―to achieve their cherished goal.
Always far from the Russian thesis of surrender, the Deputy Minister of Defense insisted that it is a “rescue operation for the defenders” of Mariupol, who have already fulfilled their mission. The Minister of Defense refused to reveal the number of soldiers who were still inside the industrial zone, besieged for weeks and the last bastion of the resistance in the city, considering that it was “sensitive” information. The contacts for them to come out were still going on, she said without further ado. She also did not confirm if there are foreign militiamen among those who remain or those who have been evacuated, after a reporter specifically asked her about three countries: the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. Without denying it, Maliar pointed out in her appearance before journalists in kyiv that these matters are handled through diplomatic channels.
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The agreement between the parties supposes the exchange of the 264 Ukrainian evacuees for Russian prisoners of war in the hands of the kyiv authorities. The Russian authorities have, however, begun to process at full speed a series of measures aimed at imprisoning Azov Battalion prisoners in the country. The Russian State Duma, its lower house, has announced that it will debate this Wednesday an express resolution to prevent the exchange with Ukraine “of Nazi criminals”, as the Kremlin qualifies the volunteers of that paramilitary battalion, while the prosecution has requested that it be declared terrorist organization. “Nazi criminals must not be exchanged, we must do everything to bring them to justice,” State Duma Chairman Viacheslav Volodin said. A Russian deputy, Leonid Slutski, has even said that the members of the Azov Battalion who were in Azovstal deserve the death penalty. “If his heinous crimes against humanity are proven, I will once again repeat my proposal to make an exception to the moratorium on the death penalty,” Slutski, head of the International Affairs Committee and acting chairman of the Liberal party, posted on Telegram. Democratic, ultra-nationalist and populist in nature, and the third party with the most weight in the Duma. Despite the background noise, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has pledged that they be treated “in accordance with relevant international law.”
The Russian Supreme Court will consider the prosecutor’s request on the 26th behind closed doors. At the beginning of the year, the Russian authorities included the opponent Alexei Navalny and his Platform against Corruption on the list of national extremists and terrorists, while the new Taliban government has been invited to Moscow and legitimized and recognized de facto after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Last October, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, announced that he would promote in the UN Security Council that this Islamic fundamentalist organization be removed from the lists of terrorist organizations.
The Azov Battalion was founded in May 2014 in Mariupol after Russian paramilitary groups broke into that region of eastern Ukraine a month earlier. Accused of being made up of far-right volunteers and using Nazi emblems, he had his baptism of fire in the battle of Mariupol against pro-Russian militias in June of that year. Subsequently, it was integrated into the Ukrainian Army as a regular unit under the umbrella of the National Guard.
During the first two weeks of May, hundreds of civilians had left Azovstal, most of them women and children, who were taking refuge in the steel mill along with the uniformed men. Many had spent weeks in cellars where water, food, and medicine no longer reached. On their way to the city of Zaporizhia, they left behind a shattered city where thousands of people have died. With Mariupol under its control, Moscow will now be able to connect the Crimean peninsula, a Ukrainian territory it has illegally occupied since 2014, with the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas. There the war continues its course between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops.
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