Russia considering blocking swap of Azov fighters

18 May, 12:09 PM
Transportation of the wounded defender of Mariupol in Novoazovsk, Donetsk region, May 16, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Transportation of the wounded defender of Mariupol in Novoazovsk, Donetsk region, May 16, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Russia's State Duma will consider a draft resolution banning the exchange of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment soldiers on May 18, Russian propaganda news agency RIA Novosti reported via Telegram messenger on May 17.

Azov members, which Russian propaganda refers to as "Nazi criminals,” are not subject to prisoner swaps, State Duma spokesman Vyacheslav Volodin said, calling them ”war criminals". He instructed the Defense Committee to prepare a resolution on the proposal not to exchange Azov servicemembers.

On May 17, Russia’s Prosecutor General's Office addressed the Supreme Court with a proposal to recognize Azov as a "terrorist organization" and "ban its activities" in Russia. The court hearing will take place on May 26.

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Earlier, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that the State Duma's threats to ban the swap of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol "are designed for internal propaganda" in Russia. She clarified that the negotiation process and the rescue operation were underway.

Evacuation from Azovstal

Malyar said on May 16 that 264 defenders of the Azovstal steelworks had been evacuated to the temporarily occupied territories in Donbas.

She said that 53 seriously wounded defenders had earlier been taken to a medical facility in the occupied town of Novoazovsk for treatment, while another 211 had been evacuated to the occupied village of Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.

Later, the Ukrainian soldiers are intended be returned to Ukrainian-controlled territory as part of a prisoner swap.

Malyar added that the Ukrainian authorities are doing everything possible to save the rest of the Azovstal defenders.

Ukraine's General Staff stressed that the commanders of units stationed in Azovstal had received an order from the top military leadership to save the lives of their personnel.

More than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting invading Russian troops in Mariupol, a destroyed port city now mostly occupied by Russia. For weeks they have been calling on the world to help evacuate civilians and their wounded comrades.

On May 17, the Reuters news agency reported that at least seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters had left the Azovstal steelworks escorted by pro-Russian armed forces. However, how many fighters in particular were evacuated was not specified.

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