Azovstal defender’s wife fears husband will be ‘caged like an animal’ and sentenced to death

 Azovstal defender’s wife fears husband will be ‘caged like an animal’ and sentenced to death

The wife of one of the Ukrainian soldiers captured after the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol said she fears her husband and others could be “judged like animals in cages” amid reports Russia is preparing to stage a “sham” trial in the city .

Hanna Biliaieva, 27, found out her husband Alexander, 26, was captured and taken to an undisclosed location on Russian-controlled territory after the defenders of the Mariupol steelworks were forced to surrender in May.

Ms Biliaieva told i: “I’m afraid that my husband will be killed. I’m scared and I don’t know how he is. I am horrified and afraid of everything I see.

“I pray for the life of my husband and the military, they defended my home, our country, and they will be judged like animals in cages. I want justice and that the world does not turn away from our pain.”

It comes following warnings from authorities that the trials could take place as early as Wednesday, although there has been no confirmation of this. Widely shared pictures on social media purport to show makeshift cages being constructed in the ruined city’s philharmonic hall.

The wife of an Azovstal defender said she fears her husband will be sentenced to death (Photo: Mariupol City Council/Telegram)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned there would be no more negotiations with Moscow if they went ahead with the trial.

“Now there are enough reports in the media that in Mariupol the scenery is being prepared for an absolutely disgusting and absurd show trial of Ukrainian defenders, of our warriors who are captives of the occupiers,” Mr Zelensky said in a national address late Sunday.

The UN human rights office expressed concern on Tuesday about plans by Russian-backed authorities to try Ukrainian prisoners of war (PoWs) in the Black Sea port city, possibly within days, saying such a process could itself amount to a war crime.

‘He told me he really loves me and he asked me to wait for me,’ was the last Hanna Biliaieva heard from her missing husband (Photo: Hanna Biliaieva)

Speaking of how Russia appears to be preparing for an “international tribunal”, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said: “We are very concerned about the manner in which this is being done .

“There are pictures in the media of cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, really massive cages and apparently the idea is to restrain the prisoners,” Ms Shamdasani said, citing images on social media.

“This is not acceptable, this is humiliating.”

Similar pictures were shared by Mariupol City Council a few weeks ago as it said on its official Telegram channel that Russia was planning on “executing” the Ukrainian defenders. The claims have not been independently verified.

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The head of the Russian-backed separatist administration in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region said this month that a trial of captured personnel from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment would take place by the end of the summer.

Willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the right to a fair trial would amount to a war crime by Russia, Ms Shamdasani said, adding that Ukrainian PoWs were entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Ms Shamdasani said the OHCHR also had concerns about cases where Ukraine had put Russian POWs on trial, including the apparent sentencing of some for merely participating in hostilities.

Ms Biliaieva, who previously told i that the last time she spoke to her husband he told her “he really loves me”, launched an emotional plea saying: “I want my husband back. I dream about extraction procedures and the intervention of other countries.”

The freelance illustrator added that she wants the world to see how Russia “crosses the line of morality”.

Ms Shamdasani said the OHCHR, which has dozens of monitors in Ukraine, has not been granted access to the prisoners and did not expect to be able to attend the planned trials.

“We are worried that denial of access to independent monitors leaves prisoners of war open to torture to extract confessions from them,” she added.

Russia denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs. It said its forces in Ukraine are engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm the country and remove far-right nationalists it deems a threat to Russia’s own security.

Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Russia of waging an unprovoked war of aggression and an imperial-style land grab.

Additional reporting by agencies

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