Amnesty International concerned about fate of Mariupol defenders evacuated from Azovstal

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Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol taken out of the Azovstal plant on May 17
Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol taken out of the Azovstal plant on May 17

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"Defending Mariupol, the Ukrainian military was dehumanized by the Russian media and presented by Putin as ‘neo-Nazis’ throughout Russia's war against Ukraine,” Krivosheev said.

“Such circumstances cause serious concern about the fate of Ukrainian combatants as prisoners of war who are in occupied territory."

He said Amnesty International had documented the killings of prisoners of war in eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed militants in 2014-2015, as well as the extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by the Russian occupiers in the spring of 2022.

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Krivosheev stressed that the Ukrainian military who were taken out of Azovstal should not suffer the same fate.

"Prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment and must be given immediate access to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” he said.

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“The authorities that detain Ukrainian combatants must fully respect the rights of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions," Krivosheev added.

In the evening of May 17, Reuters reported that seven more buses with Ukrainian defenders evacuated from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol had arrived in occupied Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast.

Ukrainian authorities confirmed that the operation to evacuate the defenders of Mariupol was underway, without specifying details. 

Evacuation from Azovstal

On the night of May 17, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that 53 seriously wounded defenders of Mariupol were taken to the occupied Novoazovsk medical facility for treatment, and another 211 were evacuated to occupied Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor. They will later return to Ukrainian-controlled territory through an exchange procedure, she said.

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The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal had received an order from the top military leadership to save the lives of their wounded soldiers.

Earlier on Monday, the Azov Regiment issued a statement saying that the defenders of Mariupol had complied with the order and hoped for the support of the Ukrainian people.

According to Malyar, there was no other way to save the soldiers in Azovstal. She said that the operation to rescue the defenders of Mariupol would continue until they return to the territory controlled by Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that Ukraine will exchange 52 seriously wounded servicemen from Azovstal when their condition stabilizes.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated that the defenders of Mariupol had obeyed their orders, holding up a group of 20,000 Russian invaders, presenting them from advancing into Zaporizhzhia and further into Donetsk Oblast. He added that after that they had received a new order — to save their own lives.

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The Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol held their positions while in full encirclement, with heavy fighting taking place. Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Ukrainian military estimates the Mariupol defenders have killed 6,000 invading troops. Russian troops inflict dozens of blows on the Azovstal steel mill per day, using aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery.

About 1,000 Ukrainian defenders remained in Azovstal, of whom 600 were wounded and 40 were in critical condition. They repeatedly asked to be evacuated and reported that the fighters had shortages of food, water, medicine, and ammunition.

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