About 2,000 Azovstal defenders still in Russian captivity

10 January, 12:00 PM
Ukrainian military Dmytro Kozatskyi in Azovstal (Photo:Дмитро Козацький)

Ukrainian military Dmytro Kozatskyi in Azovstal (Photo:Дмитро Козацький)

About 2,000 Ukrainian defenders of the port city of Mariupol are still in Russian captivity, Halyna Klempouz, co-founder of the Association of Azovstal defenders’ families, told Ukraine’s Espresso television channel on Jan. 9.

“We cannot publish the exact number as it could affect the situation,” she said.

“About 2,000 defenders of the Azovstal steelworks, both women and men, are still in captivity.”

Klempouz emphasized that people need some time to “undergo all the necessary processes” after returning from captivity.

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“These are quite individual processes,” she said.

“It’s impossible to determine a certain time for certain procedures, it all depends on the health condition. In general terms, it’s advisable not to bother them for a month or a month and a half. And they should be under the supervision of doctors with the care of their relatives nearby. These are individual moments, because many were injured in Mariupol, and many defenders had their health conditions aggravated during captivity.”

Defenders of Mariupol in captivity

The defenders of Mariupol, after two months of urban warfare with the numerically superior forces of the Russian invaders, found themselves surrounded on the territory of the Azovstal steelworks with a limited supply of medicine, food, drinking water and ammunition. They were finally forced to surrender in mid-May.

On May 16, the commanders of the military units stationed at Azovstal received an order from the top military leadership to save the lives of their personnel.

The Ukrainian defenders left the territory of Azovstal over several days. The evacuation took place via the mediation of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which recorded the personal data of the Ukrainian military.

Ukrainian soldiers were then sent to a medical facility in the occupied town of Novoazovsk, as well as to a prisoner-of-war camp in the occupied village of Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast.

According to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, there was no other way to maximize the survival of the Azovstal defenders.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on June 6 that more than 2,500 defenders of Mariupol remained in Russian captivity.

The president said all captured defenders of Mariupol should be returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory through the prisoner exchange procedure.

Zelenskyy emphasized it makes no sense for Russia to use torture against the defenders of Mariupol, since they have become “public prisoners,” though reports from freed defenders indicate that Russians make widespread use of deprivation and torture techniques.

95 defenders from Azovstal were released as part of a prisoner swap on June 29.

On Sept. 21, Ukraine conducted the largest prisoner swap since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February. As many as 215 people were released from Russian captivity, in particular 188 defenders of Azovstal and Mariupol, including Azov commanders, as well as 10 foreigners.

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