OLENA ROSCHINA - SATURDAY, 21 MAY 2022, 11:11
FIGHTERS LEAVING AZOVSTAL: SCREENSHOT FROM RIA NOVOSTI VIDEO
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that the defenders of Mariupol who were removed from the blockaded Azovstal steelworks must be released in exchange.
Source: Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview with Ukrainian journalists
Quote: "The guys from the military received a signal that they were fully entitled to leave and stay alive. The military command passed all this on to everyone who was blockaded at Azovstal...
From now on it all depends on what the UN, the Red Cross and the Russian Federation have taken on, that they (the fighters) will all be safe and will expect some kind of exchange.
This is what I think right now: the process led by intelligence today is over - the removal, withdrawal (of the defenders), and the preparations for dialogue, exchange, etc.
We will take them home. That's what we must do, together with our partners who have taken on this responsibility."
Details: Zelenskyy noted that he had asked the leaders of other states "dozens or hundreds of times" to provide weapons to unblock Mariupol and its defenders. But in the end, we had to rely on diplomacy, because it was impossible to break the blockade militarily.
The President stressed that Western partners had agreed to break the blockade. He had personally asked the leaders of Turkey, Switzerland, Israel and France to use their influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the time of Zelenskyy's conversation with the journalists, the departure of the Ukrainian defenders from Azovstal was still ongoing, but on 20 May, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced that all the fighters had been evacuated and that there were 2,439 people, whom Russia considers prisoners of war.
Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov National Guard regiment in Ukraine, said the seriously wounded Azovstal soldiers were to be brought to Ukraine-controlled territory in exchange, and with respect to the dead defenders, he said he hoped their relatives would be able to bury them soon.
- Mariupol was blockaded by Russian troops on 1 March. Since the end of April, the defenders of Mariupol - representatives of the Azov National Guard regiment, marines, border guards, and police - have been blockaded at the Azovstal steelworks. The Marines asked for "extraction"; Azov asked at least for the wounded soldiers to be evacuated.
- Civilians were evacuated, but Russia rejected all options for evacuating the fighters for a long time, although Turkey was ready to take them out by sea and guarantee that they would not take part in hostilities in Ukraine until the end of the war.
- On 14 May, a fighter with the call sign "Police" said that Azovstal had about 600 wounded soldiers, with almost no medicine, water or food. The wives of the defenders of Mariupol called on the international community to demand the release of the entire garrison, not just the seriously wounded.
- On 16 May, the Russians continued to try to enter the plant or block the exit from the Azovstal bunkers, then said they had come to an agreement with the Ukrainian defenders to remove wounded soldiers from the occupied territories.
- The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine stated that the Mariupol garrison had fulfilled its combat mission and now the commanders had been ordered to save the lives of the personnel. The Ministry of Defence explained that there is no other way of saving the defenders from Azovstal except to go to the Russian occupying forces.