Azov battalion releases another video amid questions over how many fighters remain in Mariupol

A view shows a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 15, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
The head of the Azov battalion Friday issued a video statement urging proper burials for the fighters who died at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, a move that came amid questions about the fate of hundreds who have surrendered to Russia and how many still remain at the sprawling facility.

Azov leader Denis Prokopenko noted that the military’s supreme command had ordered the battalion, a unit of the national guard, to preserve the lives and health of servicemen and “to stop the defence of the city.”

On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that nearly 2,000 Azovstal fighters, with the Azov battalion making up their core, had surrendered, but that could not be independently verified. It was not clear how many fighters remain holed up at the plant.

Questions have swirled about the whereabouts of Prokopenko and other commanders. It was not possible to tell where he was speaking or when the video was filmed, but it came a day after the battalion's deputy commander released a video in which he said that commanders remained on the territory of the plant. That contradicted reports that some may have surrendered.

Capt. Svyatoslav Palamar sent the video to news outlets, including to a reporter with The New York Times. In a separate message on WhatsApp, he said he could not disclose how many fighters remained on the territory of the plant. It was impossible to independently verify information about any fighters who remained.

In the video released Friday, Prokopenko said the Azov regiment suffered from “lack of supplies while waging tough battles and being surrounded from all sides.”

“The civilians were evacuated; the severely wounded received necessary assistance and have been evacuated with their eventual exchange and transfer to Ukrainian territory,” he said in the statement. “As far as dead heroes, the process is ongoing. I hope soon their relatives and the whole of Ukraine could bury them with honour.”

Ukrainian officials, as well as fighters at the plant, have declined to disclose details about negotiations with Russian forces over the surrender and departure of troops from Azovstal. The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday said it had registered hundreds of prisoners of war, including wounded combatants, who had left the plant.

The Red Cross said that it was not involved with transporting the fighters but that registration, which started Tuesday, allowed the organisation to “track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.” It added that “it must have immediate access to all POWs in all places where they are held.”

The Kremlin’s media outlets have been citing the Azov battalion’s links with far-right movements as proof of their false claim that the entirety of Ukraine has been infected with Nazism. The claim was used by Russian President Vladimir Putin as one of the prime justifications for his decision to invade Ukraine. The Russian Supreme Court has said it would hold a hearing next week on whether to declare the group a terrorist organisation.

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