The Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered this week at the Azovstal steelworks, the last bastion of resistance in the port of Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine.

“In the last 24 hours, 771 fighters of the nationalist Azov regiment have surrendered,” the ministry said in its daily conflict report. “In total, since May 16, 1,730 fighters have surrendered, including 80 wounded,” it added.

The ministry released a video showing soldiers leaving the plant, some visibly injured and others using crutches. Russian soldiers pat them down and inspect their backpacks as they leave. The injured were transferred to a hospital in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, while the healthy will be transferred to a penal colony in the pro-Russian region of Donetsk.

Ukraine has indicated that it will seek a prisoner exchange, but Moscow has not given a definitive answer on this issue.

According to the Reuters agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross registered all those who surrendered to the pro-Russian forces, in order to guarantee that their families can remain in contact with them after their capture.

“More than half have already left, more than half have laid down their arms,” ​​Denis Pushilin, leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, told the Solovyov Live Internet TV channel. honestly face charges for all their crimes,” Pushilin said.

Ukrainian authorities have refused to comment publicly on the fate of the fighters, saying it could jeopardize rescue efforts.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky portrays the fighters, who include Ukrainian army soldiers and members of the Azov battalion, as heroic defenders of the homeland against foreign occupiers. Russia, however, says the Azov battalion, which started as a extreme right-wing nationalist paramilitary, is a group of radically anti-Russian nationalist fighters and presents them as Nazis.

Asked about reports that Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, 39, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, had surrendered, Pushilin declined to comment. Palamar told Reuters last month that his forces would fight as long as necessary.

The final fate of the fighters is unclear. The Kremlin said they would be treated in accordance with international standards, although some Russian lawmakers called for them to be tried and one demanded they face the death penalty. The ICRC said evacuation operations were continuing. their course on Thursday and that they were not “transporting prisoners of war to the places where they are detained.

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