A year ago, the defenders of Mariupol left Azovstal after surrendering: what is known about their fate

A year ago, Mariupol defenders left Azovstal

A year ago, thousands of Mariupol defenders, as well as civilians trapped in Azovstal's bomb shelters, were taken prisoner by Russia. Some of the soldiers were returned home through exchanges, but thousands of Ukrainian servicemen still remain in the territory of the Russian terrorist state.

Those who have already been returned from captivity tell of horrific torture and inhumane conditions of detention in Russia, so relatives of the captured soldiers are waiting every day for their loved ones to be returned to Ukraine. This is described in the BBC article (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the photo).

In May 2022, following an order from their superiors, soldiers and civilians left the territory of the Azovstal plant, which was the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol. The people were taken to Russian-controlled territories, and most of them remain there today.

Those who have been exchanged tell horrific stories of life and death in prisons. Their relatives say that every day of uncertainty is painful. According to the Council of Wives and Mothers of Ukraine's Defenders, Women of Steel, there are a total of 2,500 prisoners.

Some time later, it became known that some of the prisoners had been taken by the Russians to Olenivka, Donetsk region, and that an explosion on the night of 29 July killed more than 50 people in the colony.


The largest prisoner exchange since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion took place on June 29, 2022. According to the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, among the 144 released were 95 soldiers from Azovstal. The agency said that most of the released Ukrainians had severe injuries: gunshot and shrapnel wounds, explosive injuries, burns, fractures, and amputations.

Another major prisoner exchange took place in late September 2022. The godfather of Russian dictator Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk, and 55 Russians were exchanged for 215 Ukrainian soldiers, 108 of whom were Azov fighters. It is noteworthy that under agreements with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, five commanders - Denys Prokopenko, Serhiy Volynskyi, Svyatoslav Palamar, Oleh Khomenko, and Denys Shleha - will be under his personal protection in Turkey until the end of the war.


Mariupol defenders have returned home in smaller groups during other exchanges, including former Azov regiment spokeswoman Valeria Karpilenko, who was among those returned on April 10.

According to the Women of Steel organisation, 20% of Azovstal fighters have been returned home over the past year. This means that about 2,000 more people are still in Russian captivity.


Those released from Russian captivity were horrified not only by their appearance and psychological state, but also by the gruesome details of torture. Natalia Zarytska, head of the Council of Wives and Mothers of Ukraine's Defenders, Women of Steel, said that the prisoners were kept in cold conditions and starved. The soldiers face constant interrogations and beatings.

Speaking about the exchange in September 2022, Zarytska described the condition of people who had been held captive for four months.


"This is an average of minus 40 kilograms of weight, dropped kidneys, a broken spine, injured knees, broken muscles, loss of sight, hearing, teeth, loss of sensitivity of the limbs, and terrible psychological trauma," she said of the condition of the captured Ukrainians.

On the one-year anniversary of the Azovstal release, the soldiers' relatives appealed to President Zelenskyy to triple his efforts to bring the defenders back alive. The relatives of the soldiers believe that the help of the world and international organisations is needed to achieve a full-fledged result.


Earlier, the head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, commented on the prospect of an all-for-all exchange. In particular, Kyiv offers Moscow to conduct this format and, judging by his words, the agreement is close to being reached.

Earlier, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War held a regular meeting with relatives of Ukrainian defenders temporarily held in Russia. The key fear of these people is that the occupiers will not comply with the agreements and will conceal information about the real number of captured Ukrainian soldiers.

As OBOZREVATEL previously reported, according to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as of April 26, 2,279 Ukrainians have been returned from Russian captivity. He thanked everyone who is making efforts to make the exchanges successful.

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