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Moscow says hundreds of Ukrainian troops in custody as war crimes trials continue

Patrick J. McDonnell and Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia said Thursday that more than 1,700 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered at a steel plant in the conquered city of Mariupol, even as Ukraine claimed battlefield gains elsewhere, continued its first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier and prepared to launch a second.

Russia said that the Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol had been taken to a pre-trial detention center and that at least several commanders remained inside the Azovstal steelworks, which has become a symbol of resistance in the protracted war. The plant was Ukraine’s last redoubt in the devastated port city, whose capture has given Russia a key territorial gain along the southern coast.

The International Red Cross said it had logged information on “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war from the Azovstal facility. The humanitarian group said its effort was part of an agreement between Ukraine and Russia that began when Ukraine gave up its fight at the plant Tuesday.

The Ukrainian government has kept silent on the number of its fighters who have handed themselves over to Russian forces or who still remain inside the sprawling network of underground tunnels.

“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our service personnel,” Oleksandr Motuzaynik, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said. “Any information to the public could endanger that process.”

In Kyiv, the capital, international journalists crowded Thursday into a courthouse where the war crimes trial of Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin continued. In the first such proceeding since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion, Shyshimarin, 21, has pleaded guilty in the deadly Feb. 28 shooting of an unarmed civilian in the northeastern Sumy region. Shyshimarin shot the Ukrainian, who was riding a bicycle, in the head. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

 

Ukrainian officials say dozens of such cases are being prepared by prosecutors out of thousands of war crimes they have identified. A second trial was due to open Thursday in Poltava, near Kharkiv, of two Russian soldiers charged with firing rockets at civilian targets in the region.

The developments — a major Ukrainian loss in the south and war crimes trials in the midst of fighting — highlight the complex terrain of the war, which is now in its 13th week.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who has been a part of several failed peace talks with Russia, said that a cease-fire is no longer Ukraine’s goal. “Do not offer us a ceasefire — this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” he tweeted Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said in a briefing that it had successfully pushed back against Russian attempts to make gains along a 300-mile crescent-shaped battlefront in the Donbas, an eastern region that is the industrial heartland of Ukraine and home to Kremlin-financed separatists.

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