Where Are the Ukrainian POWs?


Olena Tolkachova

spent her forty first birthday receiving some 50 corpses. The grim cargo arrived on the Kyiv morgue June 8 from Mariupol, a southeastern metropolis pulverized in Russia’s first important victory because it launched its newest invasion of the nation on Feb. 24.

Ms. Tolkachova belongs to the guardianship unit of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard, which has tended to troopers’ stays and their households for the previous eight years of warfare in Ukraine. “This is the first time we are confronted with such a number of bodies and generally such a state of bodies,” she says. “We basically can’t even determine what kind of injuries caused their death.” She worries about find out how to spare households the “terrible psychological trauma” of seeing their family members’ ravaged stays. “We will be trying to talk parents out of inspecting the bodies themselves and suggesting that the identification be done by way of DNA analysis.”

Bleak because the scene was, it sparked hope for the households of some 2,500 troopers who survived the siege of Mariupol. Kyiv and Moscow brokered an change of troops killed in motion, and households hope Russia will commerce captives subsequent.

Russian Defense Minister

Sergei Shoigu

lately stated Russia had taken practically 6,500 Ukrainian troopers prisoner since February, Voice of America reported. Ukraine stated in early April that it held some 600 Russian POWs. The Ukrainian authorities is tight-lipped about negotiations for prisoner exchanges, and the households of Mariupol’s defenders say they don’t understand how Russia has handled their family members. But Ukrainian human-rights activists say Russia routinely tortures prisoners of warfare, deprives them of requirements, and holds them in deplorable circumstances.

Mariupol’s defenders included the Azov Regiment, a lot of whose members Ms. Tolkachova knew, and the thirty sixth Marine Brigade. After enduring weeks of siege and brutal assault, the Ukrainian troopers laid down their arms in hope of saving lives. Many civilians had been efficiently evacuated from the Ukrainian troopers’ final stronghold within the metropolis.

Bohdan Krotevych,

the Azov Regiment’s 29-year-old chief of employees, stated final month that the Ukrainians proposed that Russia would obtain their severely wounded troopers and launch them in a prisoner change.

The Russians stated no—“either everyone or no one” must give up, Mr. Krotevych advised me by textual content message on May 18. “So we were faced with a very tough choice. . . . Those with serious wounds were basically rotting away and slowly dying in our hospitals, while the enemy was robbing the humanitarian convoys with medicine.” By May 20 he had stopped responding to messages, and the press reported the troopers’ give up.

Mariia Netreba (left), Kateryna Prokopenko (center) and Tetiana Kharko (proper) fear about their family members. All have Ukrainian troopers who surrendered after combating in Mariupol.


Jillian Kay Melchior

During the siege of Mariupol, “we were living from one text message to another,” says

Tetiana Kharko,

32, whose brother,

Serhii Volynskyi,

is a 30-year-old marine commander. He’s an adoring father, and his household has had no phrase of him since he was taken prisoner. “There are no resets” for his or her accumulating fear, Ms. Kharko says.

“The only comfort is they are no longer under direct threat of dying from combat,” says

Mariia Netreba,

24. Her husband, Mykola, is a quiet military-history buff who made her espresso every morning earlier than the invasion. Mrs. Netreba and her husband are from Mariupol, and he or she says she wept for 2 weeks straight over the lack of her residence and what destiny awaits Mykola as a prisoner of warfare.

Another captive is

Denys Prokopenko,

30, commander of the Azov Regiment. In late April, Mr. Krotevych described him to me as “the linchpin on which the whole defense of Mariupol and the morale of all Azov servicepeople rests.” His spouse, Kateryna, 27, wears a marriage band etched with mountains; she proudly recollects how she as soon as beat her athletic husband’s snowboarding pace report and the way he proposed to her on a backpacking journey in Norway.

Someone leaked Mrs. Prokopenko’s contact info on the Russian internet, and he or she now receives menacing calls every day. She doesn’t dare change her quantity, and he or she solutions each time: “I get this feeling that my husband could be calling me from an unknown number.” Asked how she’s holding up, she stiffens her jaw and says Denys’s “strength has rubbed off on me a bit.”

Russia is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, which enumerate the rights of prisoners of warfare, together with humane therapy, entry to medical care and safety from acts of violence, intimidation, insult, public curiosity and reprisal. Soldiers will be prosecuted for warfare crimes, however not merely for partaking in fight.

Mrs. Prokopenko says {that a} situation of give up was that the International Committee of the Red Cross would monitor the standing of the Mariupol prisoners, nevertheless it hasn’t. “The problem with the Red Cross is they are always politically neutral,” she says. “All we hear are general phrases when we ask why there is no monitoring there.”

Mirella Hodeib,

a communications coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross, stated by e mail that “visits to prisoners of war on all sides in recent months have allowed the ICRC to inform hundreds of families about their loved ones. Many more families need answers.” The Red Cross declined to offer details about “specific cases or the overall conditions or treatment” or the variety of POWs.

The Mariupol prisoners of warfare could also be particularly susceptible as a result of they embody members of the Azov Regiment. When Russia started its aggression in opposition to Ukraine in 2014, the Western press reported that this unit included members who espoused neo-Nazi ideology. This spring Mr. Krotevych acknowledged there had been “some individuals who hold Nazi views” however stated the unit had dishonorably discharged them.

Russian propagandists proceed to repeat

Vladimir Putin’s

declare that he’s “de-Nazifying” Ukraine.

Leonid Slutsky,

a deputy of the Russian Duma, lately recommended officers ought to “think carefully” about imposing the demise penalty on prisoners from the Azov Regiment: “They do not deserve to live.”

Some Russian lawmakers and commentators have referred to as for the Mariupol defenders to be placed on trial. Russian media has reported that Russia’s Ministry of Justice has sought to declare the Azov Regiment a terrorist group. “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged,” State Duma Chairman

Vyacheslav Volodin

stated final month. “Our position should be unchanged: These are war criminals and we must do everything so that they stand trial.”

Last week a court docket within the Russian-controlled territory of Donetsk delivered demise sentences for 2 Britons and one Moroccan who had fought with Ukrainian forces round Mariupol. U.Okay. Foreign Secretary

Liz Truss

characterised the defendants as prisoners of warfare and denounced the “sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.” The troopers of Mariupol are prone to related present trials.

The perils don’t finish there. “The people captured by Russia are in deadly risk because they can be raped, tortured, beaten, injured, killed,” says

Oleksandra Matviichuk,

head of the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, a human-rights nonprofit.

Russia has additionally captured civilians, together with human-rights activists, politicians and journalists. It occupies an estimated 20% of Ukrainian territory. “They want to use these people as a bargaining chip” for political concessions, says

Olha Reshetylova,

co-founder of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, a Ukrainian nongovernmental group. Russia additionally needs to “destabilize the political situation” in Ukraine by utilizing prisoner exchanges to pit the pursuits of the households of captives in opposition to these of the victims of Russian warfare crimes. The Geneva Conventions embody sweeping protections for civilians, together with a prohibition on taking hostages.

If Russia violates the legal guidelines of warfare, Ukrainians and their supporters could marvel if a negotiated settlement of the battle could be definitely worth the paper it’s printed on.

Ms. Melchior is a Journal editorial web page author.

Vladimir Putin blames his warfare in Ukraine on a deliberate assault on Russia led by U.S-backed neo-Nazis, regardless of proof that Putin is ‘now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 77 years ago.’ Images: Shutterstock/Reuters/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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