KYIV – The bodies of some Ukrainian fighters killed defending the city of Mariupol from Russian forces at a vast steel works have been handed over to Kyiv, the families of Ukraine’s Azov unit of the national guard said.
Ukrainian forces defending Mariupol were holed up in the Azovstal steelworks for weeks as Russian forces tried to capture the city. The Ukrainian soldiers eventually surrendered last month and were taken into custody by Russian forces.
There has been little information about the fate of the estimated 2,000 Azovstal defenders. Kyiv is seeking the handover of them all in a prisoner swap, but some Russian lawmakers want some of the soldiers put on trial.
It was not immediately clear how many bodies had arrived in Kyiv in this first such transfer. They appear to have been handed over as part of an exchange of 160 bodies between Russia and Ukraine that was announced last week by Ukraine’s Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories.
“It’s important to note that a third of the bodies (handed over) were Azov fighters, the affiliation of the other fighters to different units is being clarified,” the families said in a statement released late on Monday.
Russia casts the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the steel works at Mariupol, as a “Nazi” militia with radical far-right origins.
Ukraine denies that, saying the unit has been reformed and integrated into its armed forces and is outside politics.