As the three-month long hold-out at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, comes to an end, its surviving fighters are being taken as prisoners of war by Russia. Most are currently being held in Russian-held territory in Ukraine. Many of the POWs have been officially registered as such by the International Committee of the Red Cross, guaranteeing them certain rights under the Geneva Conventions. However, this does not seem to stop support for their abuse.
While Kyiv tries to organize an exchange for their prisoners, Moscow calls for the fighters, who were hunkered below the steel plant injured and ill, to be brought to trial as “terrorists.” However, some Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine want to go even further; the self-proclaimed leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine said that the ~2,300 Azovstal POWs should face “the highest penalty” in the de facto republic – death.
This is what we know about the events leading up to the Azovstal POWs being taken to Russian-occupied territory. We’ve highlighted the war crimes Russia committed (according to the Geneva Convention) in Mariupol in red.
Some of those held out and captured from the Azovstal plant are members of the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 to fight Russian-backed separatists. Putin has used the Battalion to rile up support for his unprovoked war and massive civilian casualty count, calling the soldiers “neo-nazis,” stating that Russian forces kindly “liberated” Azovstal Steelworks. We all know this is another one of Putin’s lies. These statements are not only an insult to the entire Ukrainian defense force but also an insult to those who did in fact need – and want– real liberation from concentration camps during World War II. The steel plant was not a camp, it was Mariupol’s last stand, and Ukraine will remember it as such.
What’s equally alarming about this story is Russia’s capture of Mariupol as a potential turning point in securing a land bridge to the Sea of Azov. To read more about Moscow’s potential plan for a land bridge, see our previous article, If You Can’t Overthrow a Country, At Least Secure A Land Bridge.