Russia held a "trial" of captured Azov soldiers who defended Mariupol: Zelenskyy's reaction
The "trial" of 22 Ukrainian soldiers who were captured during the months-long struggle to defend the port city of Mariupol from Russian invaders has begun in Russia. The defenders of Ukraine are members of the Azov Regiment, an elite unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that has been heroically fighting Putin's army for several months.
Eight of the 22 defendants on trial are women. In photos taken at Wednesday's hearing, the Ukrainian soldiers are pale and very thin with their heads shaved.
They are accused of allegedly belonging to a terrorist organisation and participating in an action to overthrow the pro-Russian government in Donetsk region.
Last August, Russia's highest court recognised the Azov regiment, a former volunteer battalion officially integrated into the Ukrainian army, as a "terrorist" organisation. The ruling by Russia's supreme court provides for long prison sentences for Azov members, whom the Russian authorities accuse of "concealing neo-Nazi ideology and the ideology of supporters of white supremacy".
If they are "convicted" in Russia, they face 15 years to life in prison.
The President's Office reacted to the trial and blamed the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"The photos of the trial of Azovstal's defenders in Rostov are nothing but disgusting. Glossy prosecutors and dressed-up jurors with brilliant smiles are 'judging' boys and girls who look like skeletons after a concentration camp and torture. A crime that should be properly assessed by the ICC. And yes, tell me, does anyone see representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the hall?" - said Mykhailo Podoliak, advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
According to Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, there are 22 Ukrainian prisoners in the dock, including 8 women who worked as cooks in the Azov battalion.
"The aggressor country cynically accuses Ukrainian defenders of so-called 'involvement in a terrorist organisation' and 'participation in actions to overthrow the government in the 'DPR'. How much do we need to be afraid of Azov to judge even cooks under far-fetched articles?!" he writes.
Lubinets noted that for Russia, this is another trial, and for Ukraine and the world, it is a confirmation that Russia continues to turn Ukrainian heroes into criminals.
"These people have defended the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, saved civilian lives, Azovstal, spent nights and days under Russian fire from all types of weapons, and were captured by the enemy. But if the Russian Federation finds them guilty of these ridiculous articles, the Ukrainian soldiers face a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment. The next hearing is scheduled for June 28 - the Constitution Day of Ukraine," the Ombudsman said.
He called on the world to respond to this crime.
"It is obvious to everyone that those who are defending themselves should not be in the dock, but those who caused the aggression, who invaded foreign land with weapons and who came to the territory of an independent state with tanks! Justice and truth must prevail!" he added.
As a reminder, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that if the occupiers organise an illegal public "trial" of the defenders of Mariupol from the Azov Regiment, Ukraine will refuse to hold any negotiations with the terrorist state of Russia. Our country will not tolerate abuse of its people.
As OBOZREVATEL previously reported, according to 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.