Bodies of Ukrainian Azovstal fighters arrive home in Kyiv to be reunited with family

Ukraine: Ben Mainardi discusses threat of starvation

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The large industrial site with a web of underground tunnels was attacked by Russian forces for weeks, leaving many trapped below as fighters refused to surrender. It has reported that the bodies returning home were part of a body swap deal made with Russia with each country sending 160 deceased soldiers to their homeland, though Moscow has not commented.

In a Telegram post on Monday, the families of the deceased soldiers said “the bodies of the killed Azovstal defenders” had arrived in Kyiv.

The identification process is underway and may take up to three months with a third of the soldiers being from the Azov regiment.

In May, the survivors were taken prisoner after Russia took the steelworks, leading to over 1,000 Ukrainian troops detained in Mariupol, allegedly being sent to Russia.

Itar-Tass, a state-owned Russian news agency reported that a law enforcement source said that the soldiers were being moved to Russia for investigation after being held in multiple Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine. 

The source also declared that more prisoner transfers were due to follow, though this claim has not been substantiated by Ukrainian sources. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his belief that over 2,500 defenders of Azovstal, including territorial defence, police and border guards were being detained in Russia.

Two narratives have been peddled about the events leading up to the capture of the Ukrainian fighters. 

Kyiv stated that the last defenders of the besieged port town of Mariupol were given orders from superiors to save their own lives after achieving the goal of delaying Russian forces and keeping them engaged so they were not re-deployed to other battles across the nation.

Meanwhile, the story from Moscow is that the Ukrainians were forced to surrender by Russian forces. 

While Kyiv is demanding the survivors be sent back to Ukraine, a few Russian lawmakers are demanding that some soldiers from the Azov regiment be put on trial after the regiment has a history with far-right groups which has since been reformed.

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In the fight for Mariupol, which was taken by Russian forces in May, Ukrainian officials estimated that tens of thousands died, including children.

A warning has also been issued about an outbreak of cholera, a bacterial disease spread through contaminated water after bodies have been buried under debris and wreckage and sewage has entered water supplies. 

If Russia achieves their next target of capturing Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, they will control the Luhansk region. 

This combined with Donetsk, creates Donbas, which was the initial target of the ‘special military operation’.

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