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.
Fighting in the eastern Donbass region killed 12 and destroyed 60 houses as Russia shelled the neighboring cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk northwest of Luhansk, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said in a telegram post on Friday.
In addition to Thursday’s artillery attack, Russian ground forces attempted to attack Severodonetsk but suffered casualties and retreated, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its morning update.
In Mariupol, an unknown number of defenders remain in the sprawling Azovstal complex, which is the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in the city – a target since the invasion began that has been effectively under Russian control for some time.
If the factory falls, Russia is likely to use troops from the city to step up operations elsewhere in the industrial Donbass region, but the duration of tough resistance will make that maneuver more difficult or prolong, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a daily intelligence report.
“The steadfast Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the beginning of the war means that Russian forces in the region need to be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be effectively redeployed,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
“However, Russian commanders are under pressure to demonstrate that they are achieving their operational objectives. This means that without proper preparation, Russia is likely to redistribute its forces quickly, risking further downsizing.”
Analysts have said it’s likely most of the Russian forces tied down by the battle there have already left.
However, it is unclear how long the remaining troops in the Azovstal factory can hold out.
In a brief video message Thursday, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment, which led the steelworks’ defense, said he and other fighters were still inside.
“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not disclose,” Svyatoslav Palamar said.
Ukrainian troops, backed by Western arms, have thwarted Russia’s original aim of storming the capital, Kyiv, and have put up a bitter stand against Moscow forces in the Donbass, which President Vladimir Putin now wants to seize.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had collected personal information from hundreds of soldiers who surrendered – names, dates of birth, next of kin – 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”.
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.
Russian state television broadcast a video allegedly showing wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal plant in a hospital in the Donetsk region.
The disheveled men, three to a room, lay in beds while being tended and tended to by doctors and nurses. A doctor, identified only as Natalya, said most were in serious condition with multiple fractures and many would need prosthetic limbs.
An unidentified Ukrainian patient winced and groaned as a nurse changed a bandage on his leg.
“The most important thing is that the leg was saved,” he said in Russian. “The pain is bearable.”
While Ukraine has expressed hope for a prisoner swap, Russian authorities have 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, in Ukraine’s first-ever war crimes trial, Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a Russian armored unit, told a Kyiv court on Thursday that he had killed Oleksandr Shelipov, a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, on orders from an officer head shot.
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 a life sentence, the maximum possible, but that she wouldn’t mind if he were swapped for Azovstal’s defenders as part of a swap.
Also, more US aid appeared on the way to Ukraine 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 are victorious,” said Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader.
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.
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https://abc13.com/ukraine-russia-mariupol-finland/11872631/ Russia-Ukraine War: Russian troops likely to be transferred from Mariupol, Britain says