Kiev / Mariupol – Russia said on Wednesday that 700 more Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Mariupol but Kyiv was silent about their fate, while a pro-Russian separatist leader said commanders were still trapped in a tunnel under the Azovstal steelwork.
More than a day after Kyiv’s announcement, Mariupol ordered his garrison to stand, with the final outcome of Europe’s bloodiest war in decades still unresolved. Ukrainian officials have stopped all public talks about the fate of fighters in their last positions there.
“The state is doing its utmost to rescue our troops. Let’s wait. At the moment, the most important thing is to save the lives of our heroes, “military spokesman Alexander Motuzaynik told a news conference.” Any information to the public could endanger that process. “
Russia says another 694 fighters surrendered overnight, bringing the total number of people surrendering their weapons to 959. A local news agency, DNA, quoted Denis Pushlin, a leader of the pro-Russian separatists in the region, as saying. The main commanders were still inside the plant.
Ukrainian officials on Tuesday confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters, but did not say how many more were inside or what could happen to them.
“Unfortunately, the issue is very sensitive and there is a very fragile set of discussions going on today, so I can’t say much more than that,” said Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boichenko. He said President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in the talks but did not provide details.
Discussions on Mariupol’s surrender began when Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO, with Russian President Vladimir Putin citing in February one of the main reasons for launching a “special military operation” that has led to widespread expansion.
The final surrender would bring more than 400,000 people closer to the nearly three-month siege of the port city, where Ukraine says thousands of civilians have been killed in Russian bombings.
Ukrainian officials have called for a prisoner exchange for Mariupol defenders. Moscow says no such agreement has been reached for the fighters, many of whom come from a unit they call the Nazis.
Russia says more than 50 wounded fighters have been taken to a hospital for treatment and others to a prison, both occupied by pro-Russian separatists.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has posted a video of Ukrainian fighters being treated at a hospital after surrendering in Azovstal.
One person lying in bed said he had access to food and a doctor, another said he had been bandaged and had no complaints about his treatment. It was not possible to establish whether the men were speaking without hesitation.
The Kremlin says Putin has personally vowed to treat those who surrender humanely. Other Russian politicians have called for their detention and even execution.
Finland and Sweden have applied to NATO
The Swedish and Finnish ambassadors handed over their applications for NATO membership at a ceremony at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
“This is a historic moment that we must seize,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
US President Joe Biden said Washington would work to be vigilant against any threats while considering the membership of Finland and Sweden.
Turkey has said in recent days that if it does nothing more to suppress Kurdish militants on its territory, it will block Nordic members from joining. Stoltenberg said he thought the issue could be resolved, and Washington said he hoped it would be resolved.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden were both militarily unconnected during the Cold War.
Although Russia has threatened retaliation against the plan, Putin said on Monday that its alliance with NATO would not be a problem if the alliance did not send more troops or weapons.
Despite the war and sanctions, Russia remains Europe’s main source of power.
The European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, has announced a 210 billion euro plan for Europe to end Russia’s dependence on oil, gas and coal by 2027, with plans to more than double the EU’s renewable energy capacity by 2030.
As another sign of Moscow’s isolation, Google, the latest major Western company to emerge from Russia, has said its Russian unit filed for bankruptcy and was forced to suspend operations after its bank accounts were seized.
The surrender of Steelwork in Mariupol will allow Putin to claim a rare victory in a campaign that would otherwise have failed. In recent weeks, it has been reported that Russian forces have abandoned the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after being driven out of the environment in the north and the capital Kiev at the end of March.
Nonetheless, Moscow continues its main offensive, seeking to occupy more territory in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine, which it has been supporting since 2014, claiming to be a separatist.
Mariupol, the main port of Donbass, Russia occupies the largest city so far, and gives Moscow complete control of the Azov Sea and an uninterrupted territory east and south of Ukraine. The blockade was Europe’s deadliest since the wars in Chechnya and the Balkans in the 1990s.
The almost complete destruction of the city has demonstrated the strategy of raining fire on Russia’s population centers.
Human Rights Watch said it recorded more incidents of apparent war crimes by Russian forces in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions from late February to March, including brief executions, torture and other serious abuse.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and the Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the report. Moscow denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, signs of atrocities were staged to disrespect its troops.
(Reporting by Natalia Genetes and Max Hender in Kiev, and additional reporting by Peter Graf and Angus McSowan by Reuters Bureau, a Reuters journalist in Mariupol; editing by Nick McPhee and Philippa Fletcher)