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Interrogation, uncertainty for surrendering Mariupol troops

by The Associated Press | May 19, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.
In this photo taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, a Russian serviceman frisks a Ukrainian soldier after he left the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN

Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who had held out inside Mariupol's pulverized steel plant have surrendered, Russia said Wednesday, as the battle that turned the city into a worldwide symbol of defiance and suffering drew toward a close.

Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty to killing a civilian and could get life in prison. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, abandoning generations of neutrality for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.

The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian troops have abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday.

Video showed the fighters carrying out their wounded on stretchers and undergoing pat-down searches before being taken away on buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin "Z" sign.

In a sign of normalcy returning to Kyiv, the U.S. Embassy reopened on Wednesday, one month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed. A dozen embassy employees watched solemnly as the American flag was raised.

In the war-crimes case in Kyiv, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through a car window in the opening days of the war. Ukraine's top prosecutor has said some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.

On the diplomatic front, Finland and Sweden could become members of NATO in a matter of months, though objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten to disrupt things. Turkey accuses the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.

Also, Russia's top prosecutor asked the country's Supreme Court to designate Ukraine's Azov Regiment -- among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison -- as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the far right.

The Russian parliament was scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of any Azov Regiment fighters but didn't take up the issue Wednesday.

Mariupol was a target of the Russians from the outset. The city -- its prewar population of about 430,000 now reduced by about three-quarters -- has largely been reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says over 20,000 civilians have been killed there.

During the siege, Russian forces launched lethal airstrikes on a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians had taken shelter. Close to 600 people may have been killed at the theater.

Print Headline: Interrogation, uncertainty for surrendering Mariupol troops

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