Ukraine steelworks troops surrender as Russian soldier says sorry

KYIV: Russia said on Thursday (May 19) that 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered this week at Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, showing some emerging on crutches after a desperate battle that has become emblematic of the nearly three-month-old war.

The number included 80 who were wounded and taken to a hospital in Russia-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the defence ministry in Moscow said.

The ministry released a video appearing to show exhausted Ukrainian soldiers trudging out of the sprawling steelworks, after a weeks-long siege forced the defenders and civilians to huddle in tunnels with dire shortages of food, water and medicine.

Russian troops patted down those surrendering and inspected their bags as they exited, signalling the effective end of what Ukraine’s government had called a “heroic” resistance.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered “hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war” from the plant in Mariupol, a port city obliterated by Russian shelling.

Ukraine is hoping to exchange the Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But pro-Kremlin authorities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said some of them could be put on trial.

Ukrainian prosecutors have so far listed 12,595 alleged war crimes by the invaders, including the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol, and opened the first trial of a Russian soldier Wednesday.

‘PLEASE FORGIVE ME’

Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty to a war crime in shooting dead Oleksandr Shelipov, an unarmed 62-year-old man, in northeastern Ukraine on Feb 28 – four days into the invasion.

The 21-year-old sergeant, who faces a life sentence, was remorseful as he took the dock for a second day Thursday, as two other Russian soldiers went on trial elsewhere in Ukraine.

“I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness,” Shishimarin said, addressing Shelipov’s widow in the cramped courtroom in Kyiv.

While Mariupol has fallen, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the wider invasion was an “absolute failure” as he marked “Vyshyvanka Day”, an annual celebration of Ukrainian folk traditions.

Wearing an embroidered shirt instead of his usual military khaki top, Zelenskyy said on the Telegram social media platform that his people remained “strong, unbreakable, brave and free”.

“I have no doubt we will seize our independence” but at the cost of “tens of thousands of lives”, he told Ukrainian university heads and students.

Zelenskyy’s defiance, and his army’s dogged resistance, have earned the West’s admiration and a steady flow of military support.

The US Congress approved a US$40-billion aid package for Ukraine Thursday as Washington ramped up support for Kyiv.

Germany said it would contribute €1 billion to shore up Ukrainian government coffers as G7 finance ministers met to coordinate action.

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Ukraine would have “no shortcuts” to membership of the European Union. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the “second-class treatment” of his country.