As Russian troops continue to seize or block the exits from bunkers within the Mariupol-based Azovstal plant, Ukraine has asked the Azov Battalion and other remnants in the plant to surrender.
On the evening of Monday, May 16, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that the soldiers hiding at the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol were ordered to surrender, as per the messages on the social networks. However, the Ukrainian side tried to avoid using the expression “surrender.”
The use of social media maybe because the Russian and the DPR forces had previously blocked an important communication hub in a hangar on the territory of Azovstal. The hangar had secret exits from the bunkers, which are now under Russian control.
“The Mariupol garrison completed its combat mission. The high military command ordered the commanders of the units located at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel,” the Ukrainian military said in a statement.
The General Staff explains the “inmates” had one task – “while holding positions at Azovstal, these fighters “prevented Russian troops from operating in other theatres of military operations.”
Kyiv’s note says that the Azov and soldiers of the regular troops of the Armed Forces of Ukraine “prevented the implementation of the alleged Russian plan for the rapid capture of Zaporizhzhia and did not allow the withdrawal of Russian troops to the administrative border of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.”
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking about the fate of the troops who were asked to surrender, said, “work on their return will require delicacy and time.”
“Thanks to the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, as well as the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we have hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys. I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words. To bring our military home, work continues, and this work requires delicacy and time,” Zelensky said.
As per the Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Anna Malyar and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, those who surrender will be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war taken by Kyiv. However, the terms of the exchange have not yet been determined.
After the last Ukrainian soldier leaves Azovstal, the battle for Mariupol will be effectively over, and Russia will have full control over the strategically important city.
The Russian Ministry of Defense had repeatedly offered the Ukrainian formations at Azovstal to lay down their arms and promised them to spare their lives in case of surrender. In April, the Russian army opened corridors from the Azovstal plant for the Ukrainian military who were ready to surrender, but no one came out through them.
Ukrainian soldiers surrender
On May 16th morning, 10 Ukrainian militants left the plant waving a white flag and entered into negotiations with the Russian side. The result was an agreement on the surrender of a group of wounded. According to the latest information, about 51 Ukrainian soldiers were sent to the Novoazovsk hospital.
One of the Azov fighters who were in the plant’s basements said up to 700 were wounded, of which 45-50 are in a truly critical condition.
“On May 16, as a result of negotiations with representatives of Ukrainian military personnel blocked on the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol, an agreement was reached on the removal of the wounded,” the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday.
“Currently, a silence regime has been introduced in the area of the enterprise, and a humanitarian corridor has been opened, through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are delivered to a medical facility in Novoazovsk of the Donetsk People’s Republic to provide them with all the necessary assistance,” it said.
D. Prokopenko, the leader of the Azov Battalion, said it was “the only right decision.” According to him, “the Mariupol garrison held out for 82 days, which allowed the Ukrainian troops to regroup and receive foreign weapons.”
Justifying the actual decision to surrender, Prokopenko says, “Saving personnel – this is the highest level of command and control, especially if your decision is supported by top management.”
The issue of foreign mercenaries in Azovstal
Russia believes that foreign military personnel and mercenaries are present in the Azovstal bunkers.
If true, the foreign mercenaries may be prosecuted under part 3 of Article 359 of the Criminal Code of Russia. A mercenary is punishable by imprisonment for a term of three to seven years.
As per international humanitarian law, mercenaries are not considered military personnel of one of the parties to the conflict; therefore, they will be held criminally liable for crimes they committed. These crimes have no statute of limitations and are punishable by life imprisonment.