Ukraine steelworks troops surrender as Russian soldier says sorry

Russia said Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered this week at Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, after a desperate battle that has become emblematic of the nearly three-month-old war.

The number included 80 wounded who were taken to a hospital in Russia-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, Moscow said.

Russian troops patted down those surrendering and inspected their bags as they left, signalling the effective end of what Ukraine’s government had called a “heroic” resistance.

Ukraine is hoping to exchange the Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But pro-Kremlin authorities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said some of them could be put on trial.

“Our expectation is… that all prisoners of war will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the law of war,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

– ‘Please forgive me’ –

Vadim Shishimarin has admitted shooting dead Oleksandr Shelipov, an unarmed 62-year-old man, on February 28 — four days into the invasion. 

The West’s support for Kyiv stiffened further Thursday when a $40 billion aid package was approved by an unusually united US Congress.

Germany also said it would contribute one billion euros to shore up Ukrainian government coffers as G7 finance ministers met to coordinate action.

“For our partners, it’s not just expenses or a gift, it’s their contribution to their own safety,” he said.

– Famine warning –

US President Joe Biden welcomed the leaders of Finland and Sweden after the Nordic nations decided to abandon decades of military non-alignment and join NATO.

Admission to the bloc must be approved unanimously by current members, and Turkey is a fly in the ointment, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling Sweden a “complete terror haven”.

The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is blacklisted as a “terrorist organisation” by Turkey and Western allies such as the European Union — which includes Finland and Sweden. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that remark, saying: “If concerns are raised by any members of the alliance, they’ll be addressed.”

In Finland, where previously lukewarm support for NATO membership has exploded since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one brewery produced a special NATO beer.

– Famine –

“Malnutrition, mass hunger and famine” could follow “in a crisis that could last for years”, Guterres warned, urging Russia to release grain exports from occupied Ukraine.

Ukrainian presidential administration head Andriy Yermak said the squeeze on global staples was a deliberate ploy to weaken international resolve.

– Civilians under fire –

The losses often come after weeks of battles over urban hubs that are pulverised by artillery fire by the time the Russians surround them.

In Severodonetsk, 12 people were killed and another 40 wounded when Russian forces shelled the eastern city, the regional governor said.

Severodonetsk resident Nella Kashkina sat in her basement next to an oil lamp and prayed.

“We have no medicine left and a lot of sick people — sick women — need medicine. There is simply no medicine left at all.”

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