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Russia says 1,730 Mariupol fighters have surrendered as US grants $40 billion dollars to Ukraine

The Russian military says that a total of 1,730 Ukrainian fighters who were making a last stand in Mariupol have surrendered.

A Russian soldier patrols a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant in Mariupol.
A Russian soldier patrols a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant in Mariupol.

Updated May 19th 2022, 10:40 AM

THE RUSSIAN MILITARY has said that more Ukrainian fighters who were making a last stand in Mariupol have surrendered, bringing the total who have left their stronghold to 1,730, while the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of them as prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, the US Congress today approved a gargantuan $40 billion aid package for Ukraine to help fight Russia’s invasion as US President Joe Biden rallied behind the historic NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that the registrations of Ukrainian prisoners of war, which included wounded fighters, began on Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

The Geneva-based humanitarian agency, which has experience in dealing with prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges, said however that its team did not transport the fighters to “the places where they are held” — which was not specified.

Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steel plant after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate.

Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

The Red Cross cited rules under the Geneva Conventions that should allow the organisation to interview prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted”.

The organisation did not specify how many prisoners of war were involved.

It was also not clear how many fighters are left at the plant. Russia previously estimated that it had been battling some 2,000 troops in the waterside plant.

Denis Pushilin, a senior Russian-backed separatist official in a region that includes Mariupol, said that those Ukrainian soldiers who needed medical assistance were admitted to hospital while others were put in a detention facility.

ukraine-russia-mariupol Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they were evacuated from the besieged Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant. Source: AP/PA Images

He also claimed that Red Cross representatives were allowed to inspect the detention facility, but that could not be immediately verified.

Despite the setback in Mariupol, Ukraine’s confidence has been growing after fighting the Russian offensive to an effective standstill and forcing Moscow to withdraw from around Kyiv and narrow its military goals.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said today in a tweet that at this stage “do not offer us a ceasefire — this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal”.

“Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” he tweeted.

Ukraine’s military said in its morning briefing this morning that Russian forces were still pressing their offensive on various sections of the front in the east, but were being successfully repelled.

In the eastern Donbas region, which has been the centre of recent fighting as Russian forces on the offensive have clashed with staunch Ukrainian resistance, four civilians were killed in the town of Sievierodonetsk in a Russian bombardment, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said.

Three other civilians were wounded in the attack on Wednesday, and the shelling continued into early today, Haidai said.

On the Russian side of the border, the governor of Kursk province said a truck driver was killed and several other civilians wounded by shelling from Ukraine.

Separatist authorities in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine said two civilians were killed and five wounded also in Ukrainian shelling over the last 24 hours.

Mariupol was a target of the Russians from the outset as Moscow sought to open a land corridor from its territory to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

The city — its pre-war population of about 430,000 now reduced by about three-quarters — has largely been reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says over 20,000 civilians have been killed there.

Aid

The US Congress approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, the latest tranche of US assistance under President Joe Biden’s promise of unwavering support for Kyiv in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

The vote was an unusually bipartisan move for harshly divided Washington.

“Aid for Ukraine goes far beyond charity,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“The future of American security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight,” he said ahead of the vote.

The bundle includes $6 billion earmarked for Ukraine to boost its armoured vehicle inventory and air defense system.

Congress already approved almost $14 billion for Ukraine in mid-March, only weeks after Russia’s invasion.

Biden has cast the Ukraine war as part of a US-led great struggle of democracy against authoritarianism.

At the White House, he offered a red-carpet welcome to the leaders of Finland and Sweden days after they applied for NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

“The bottom line is simple. Quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said, offering the “full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.”

“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” Biden said alongside Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the White House Rose Garden.

“They meet every NATO requirement, and then some,” Biden told assembled reporters without taking any questions.

Sweden and Finland have historically kept a distance from NATO as part of longstanding policies aimed at avoiding angering Russia but they shifted amid shock over the invasion of Ukraine, which has sought unsuccessfully to join the alliance.

Folk celebration

But while Mariupol has fallen, Zelenskyy said the wider invasion was an “absolute failure” as he marked “Vyshyvanka Day”, an annual celebration of Ukrainian folk traditions.

Wearing an embroidered shirt instead of his usual military khaki top, Zelenskyy said on the Telegram social media platform that his people remained “strong, unbreakable, brave and free”.

Zelenskyy’s defiance, and his army’s dogged resistance, have earned the West’s admiration and a steady flow of military support. G7 finance ministers were meeting in Germany to thrash out more cash support.

G7 partners have to “assure Ukraine’s solvency within the next days, few weeks”, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner told the newspaper Die Welt.

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there could be “no shortcuts” to membership of the European Union for Ukraine. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the “second-class treatment” of his country.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said this morning, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership. “The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership – Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said.

It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

Washington

Russia’s actions are already redrawing the security map of Europe.

US President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Finland and Sweden later today to discuss their bids to join Nato, after the Nordic neighbours decided to abandon decades of military non-alignment.

finland-sweden-nato Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden's Ambassador to Nato Axel Wernhoff shake hands during a ceremony to mark Sweden's and Finland's application for membership. Source: JOHANNA GERON

“I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in Nato,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday, offering US support against any “aggression” while their bids are considered.

Biden will meet President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington today for consultations.

Their bids face stiff resistance from Nato member Turkey, which accuses the two nations of harbouring anti-Turkish extremists.

But Western allies remain optimistic they can overcome Ankara’s objections.

In an effort to lower the diplomatic heat, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the United Nations, who called the face-to-face discussion “extremely positive”.

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Applications for entry into the alliance require the approval of all members.

For now, several including Britain have offered security guarantees to Finland and Sweden to guard against any Russian aggression.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said these applications would not have been expected recently “but Putin’s appalling ambitions have transformed the geopolitical contours of our continent”. 

‘Time to run’

Despite their last-ditch resistance in places such as Mariupol, and the successful defence of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces are retreating in the east.

russia-ukraine-war Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building destroyed by Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Source: Andriy Andriyenko

The losses often come after weeks of battles over towns and small cities that are pulverised by the time the Russians surround them in a slow-moving wave.

“I tell everyone that there is no reason to worry when the banging is from outgoing fire,” Volodymyr Netymenko said as he packed up his sister’s belongings before evacuating her from the burning village of Sydorove in eastern Ukraine.

“But when it is incoming, it is time to run. And things have been flying at us pretty hard for the past two or three days.”

In the Russian region of Kursk, one person died and others were injured in an attack on a village on the border with Ukraine, the local governor said.

War crimes trials

The conflict has sparked a massive exodus of more than six million Ukrainians, many bearing accounts of torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate destruction.

A second war crimes trial was due to open in Ukraine Thursday.

The International Criminal Court is deploying its largest-ever field team to Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to gather evidence of alleged war crimes.

Ukrainian civilians are bearing the brunt of incessant Russia mortar fire raining down on the eastern city of Severodonetsk.

Nella Kashkina sat in the basement next to an oil lamp and prayed.

“I do not know how long we can last,” the 65-year-old former city worker said.

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

© AFP 2022 

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