Eight women are among the 22 Ukrainian prisoners of war who are accused by Russia of membership in a ‘terrorist group’.
Published On 15 Jun 2023
More than 20 Ukrainian soldiers who were taken prisoner during the months-long battle to defend the port city of Mariupol from Moscow’s forces have gone on trial in southern Russia.
The captured soldiers were members of the Azov regiment, an elite Ukrainian armed forces unit that fought against Russian troops for months in the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol.
After a ferocious three-month battle that reduced most of Mariupol to ruins, the remaining Ukrainian defenders – who had bunkered inside a giant steel mill – surrendered to Russian forces in May 2022.
On Wednesday, the court in Russia’s southern Rostov-on-Don started hearings cases against the Azov personnel, a military unit which Russia had described as a “terrorist group”.
In August last year, Russia’s top court designated the Azov Regiment, a former volunteer battalion with far-right roots that was officially integrated into Ukraine’s army, a “terrorist” organisation.
The ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court allows for lengthy prison terms for the members of Azov, who Russian authorities have accused of harbouring neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.
Of the 22 defendants facing trial, eight are women. Photographs taken inside the court on Wednesday showed the Ukrainian soldiers pale and very thin – the men with their heads shaved tight – seated behind a glass panel inside the courtroom.
The defendants are facing charges of involvement in a terrorist organisation and taking part in action to overthrow the Russia-backed authorities in the Donetsk region. They face sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
The Red Cross said Wednesday that it had visited 1,500 prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said such visits are vital for checking detention conditions, relaying information between prisoners and their loved ones, and providing hygiene items and other personal necessities.
The ICRC and its partners have so far delivered around 2,500 personal messages between POWs and their families in the Ukraine conflict and helped provide around 5,500 families with information on the fate of their loved ones in the conflict.
“For the prisoners of war and their families who have been able to share news, the impact is … immeasurable,” Ariane Bauer, ICRC’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, told reporters.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused the Red Cross of not pushing hard enough to gain access to Ukrainian troops captured by Russian forces.