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“We will fight for them anytime, anywhere.”Defenders of Azovstal, who are now prisoners of war in Russia — and women who insist on their liberation

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In mid-May, the Azovstal Ironworks became the last breakwater of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol as Ukrainian troops, including the Azov Regiment, evacuated there. On May 16, defenders of Azovstal surrendered and began to leave the complex, and on May 20, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the Azovstal factory was “completely liberated.” according to More than 2,500 soldiers have surrendered to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Some of them are currently being held on the territory of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.Others are in Moscow Refortoff Remand Prison.. To save their loved ones, the relatives of the captured soldiers set up an association of families of defenders of the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works. Meduza spoke to his deputy director, Julia Fedshuk, wife of the Azov fighter Arseny Fedshuk, about the ongoing battle to free the soldiers.

There is little news about Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol’s Azovstal ironworks for the past few weeks and civilians hiding inside from February to May, because they are free or safe. There is none. Many soldiers are detained in Olenifka, a Ukrainian territory controlled by the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). Prisoners of more political value to Russia, such as the commander of the Azov Regiment, have been held in Moscow’s Rehortobo remand prison, and Russia is reportedly conducting an “investigation.”Courtroom “and even more Death penalty..

Behind the scenes, however, several political parties are doing everything possible to ensure the prompt release of soldiers, led by the Azovstal Iron and Steel Defenders Family Association. It is an organization called. As much as possible to the Russian authorities, both formal and informal, the priority of the association, which consists of families of prisoners of war, is to publicly watch the fate of Azovstal’s defenders. It extends to lobbying to put pressure on you.

Julia Fedshuk, whose husband Azov Regiment Arseny Fedshuk is currently detained in Olenifka, is the deputy director of the association. She helped Katerina Prokopenco find the tissue shortly after learning that the man had been captured. Prokopenko’s husband, Denys Prokopenko, was the commander of the Azov Regiment, which is currently detained in Russia.

“We have gathered representatives of all the units that defended Mariupol. It was not only Azov, but also the Marines, National Border Guards, Security Forces, and National Guards,” Fedushk told Medusa. “Currently, over 300 families are working with us and new families are joining us every day.”

View from the inside of Azovstal

According to Fedosyuk, Russia is trying to convict Mariupol’s defenders for terrorism and war crimes against Mariupol’s citizens. “Russia is trying to hold our defenders accountable for the crimes committed by Russian soldiers,” she said. The Azovstal Defenders’ Families association discusses representing men in court with several lawyers and organizations.

One of the little comforts, in Fedshuk’s view, is the most extreme threat of Russian authorities, such as international courts. death Penalty — Must be taken with a grain of salt. First of all, she said that DNR’s self-proclaimed head Denis Pushilin is not a serious person.

“He only blows up certain messages to raise his position and add tension to the situation,” she said.

Partly due to the facts of the Russian people, a significant portion of them are hungry for retaliation against soldiers who are said to be “Nazis.”

“The’Z Audience’demands blood and sight,” Fedosyuk said. “These types of statements are for them, in addition. [the Russian side] The importance of these prisoners must be constantly exaggerated so that they can replace them at the highest possible price. “

Still, if Russia resumes talking about the death penalty, Fedshuk and her colleagues will proceed cautiously. The stakes are too high to underestimate such a declaration.

“We will respond to the announcement in some way, because […] Even if they are an empty threat, we cannot afford to remain silent about that kind of threat to our loved ones. To the extent we can, we will fight for them anytime, anywhere. “

“It’s all up to one person”

Most families of Mariupol’s defenders have had little or no contact with soldiers since they were captured. Julia Fedshuk was able to have a brief conversation with her husband Arseny Fedshuk when the Russian prisoners of war were allowed to call from Olenifka’s prison.

“He asked me to open the case for him [International Committee of the] “Red Cross,” she said. “They have steps that can leave all the necessary information about their relatives, such as the medicine he needs. When the Red Cross enters the territory where war criminals are detained, they need it. Bring the goods. […] From the speed he spoke, it was clear that we didn’t have much time. We talked in less than a minute. “

According to Julia Fedshuk, the condition of Olenifka’s prison seems to be good, at least as the prison progresses, but Russian authorities are not supportive of establishing a humanitarian corridor to deliver basic necessities to prisoners. There wasn’t.

Meanwhile, men detained in Moscow’s Rehortobo remand prison could not speak to their loved ones at all.Only Azov Commander Denys Prokopenko, whose wife leads the Azovstal Iron and Guardian Family Association, manages to do so. phone His wife was on her way out of the Azovstali facility, but the connection was still very poor and she couldn’t communicate with almost anything.

“I think this complete isolation from communication with the outside world and family is part of the psychological pressure. [that Russia is applying against the Azovstal defenders]”Fedshuk said. “We know that Refortov is a remand prison under the jurisdiction of the FSB. [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn was maintained. Certainly not a good place. “

Another factory siege

The isolation of soldiers and officers only heightened the family’s determination to claim their release. According to Fedshuk, they have a strategy. With the help of the media, we hope to encourage world leaders to put as much pressure on Vladimir Putin as possible to proceed with the prisoner exchange, even if Ukraine needs to abandon everything. The prisoners they currently hold.

“We understand that this decision is up to one person,” Fedshuk said. “We can put pressure on him, and we have to put pressure on him. We believe that creating a situation that cannot be released will allow relatives to return home as soon as possible. I am. “

Negotiations on the possibility of exchange are underway, involving a number of stakeholders, including the Ukrainian main intelligence and the Red Cross acting as a guarantor, keeping prisoners in good condition and upholding the Geneva Convention. I guarantee that. The Azovstal Iron and Guardian Family Association is also in contact with Human Rights Watch, and Fedshuk said he will continue to cooperate, including arranging trips to the United States.

Back in mid-May, Fedosyuk and the wives of several other Azovstal advocates met. Pope Francis In the Vatican, they asked him to help help the soldiers evacuate. He reportedly agreed to do what he could, but said the problem was ultimately on the Russian side. Fedshuk said he did not deny that the Pope may have played a role in the process so far, but if he can travel to Ukraine, his main role may go further. She believes she may.

For now, it is the responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities to effectively negotiate with Russia, and it is the responsibility of Fedshuk and her colleagues to continue to pressure them to do so.

“”[Zelensky advisor Mykhailo] Podriak and others with whom we contact said negotiations were underway and the government was putting as much pressure as possible to accelerate the process, but the situation is difficult, “Fedshuk said. .. “There are also private channels. There are people who can’t be named, but who are directly involved in the negotiation process. They are in contact with the head of our association. She consults with them and You can find additional information. “

It’s unclear when Julia Fedshuk will meet Arseny again, but she said she would visit Russian-controlled territories and even mainland Russia if she had the opportunity. And, despite the ongoing difficulties, she proudly looks back on the patience of Azovstal’s advocates.

“At some point, about 40,000 Russian troops were concentrated in Mariupol,” she said. “If our soldiers had given up defending the city, all of them would have gone to Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and finally Kyiv. They not only protected the destroyed city, but also. It protected the whole of Ukraine. “

interview To Alexei Slavin

Summary translation by Sam Breeze Ale

https://meduza.io/en/feature/2022/06/21/we-ll-defend-them-everywhere-and-always “We will fight for them anytime, anywhere.”Defenders of Azovstal, who are now prisoners of war in Russia — and women who insist on their liberation

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