‘I Did Not Want To Kill,’ Russian Soldier Tells War Crimes Trial

 ‘I Did Not Want To Kill,’ Russian Soldier Tells War Crimes Trial

The last Ukrainian soldiers holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks say they were “ordered” by Kyiv to stop fighting as Russia intensifies its assault on eastern Ukraine, relentlessly pounding the Donbas region that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says now resembles “hell.”

After more than 12 weeks of fighting since Moscow launched its invasion, Ukrainian authorities said that “massive” artillery barrages by Russian forces continued to target civilian infrastructure, including residential districts.

“The higher military command has given the order to save the lives of the soldiers of our garrison and to stop defending the city,” Denys Prokopenko, the commander of a battalion leading the trapped Azovstal soldiers said in a video on Telegram on May 20.

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“The civilians have been evacuated. The heavily wounded received the necessary assistance and they were evacuated, to be later exchanged and delivered to territory controlled by Ukraine,” Prokopenko added.

Prokopenko said that the process of removing the dead from Azovstal was still under way and that he “hopes that in the near future, relatives and Ukraine will be able to bury their soldiers with honor.”

British intelligence on May 20 noted in its daily report on the situation in Ukraine that after securing the strategic Sea of ​​Azov port following a monthslong siege that turned the city into ruins and killed thousands of civilians, Moscow is likely to redeploy troops to aid in the offensive in the east.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant had surrendered so far.

“The blocking of the Azovstal plant continues,” Shoigu said in televised remarks. “Nationalists are actively surrendering to captivity,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian troops. “At the moment, 1,908 people have laid down their arms.”

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed that number, and it could not be independently verified.

WATCH: The widow of a Ukrainian civilian killed by the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine said he could have “missed” her husband instead of carrying out orders. The Russian soldier accused of killing him pleaded guilty in a Kyiv court on May 18.

Those soldiers who left Azovstal, including those who were wounded, were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is registering the hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who left the Azovstal plant in Mariupol as prisoners of war (POWs).

The ICRC says the registration of the fighters as POWs was “critical to ensure they’re accounted for & treated humanely and with dignity” and allows the organization to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.

Kyiv has expressed hope that the fighters will be exchanged for Russian prisoners, but separatist authorities in the eastern Donetsk region suggested some of them could be put on trial.

In southeastern Ukraine, an estimated 1,000 vehicles carrying Ukrainian civilians were prevented from crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporizhzhya. The regional military administration said on May 20 that cars full of people trying to evacuate were stuck at a Russian checkpoint in the city of Vasylivka.

“In Vasylivka, the occupiers have not allowed more than 1,000 cars to enter the territory controlled by Ukraine for the fourth day in a row,” the administration said in a Telegram post, adding that there are women and children in the cars, and that most of them no longer have money for food and water.

In Luhansk, local authorities said on May 20 that indiscriminate Russian bombing had killed at least 13 civilians over the past 24 hours and caused substantial damage.

Twelve people were killed in the town of Severodonesk, where a Russian assault has been unsuccessful, said the regional governor, Serhiy Hayday. The town and city of Lysychansk are in an area where Russian troops have launched an offensive.

In Donetsk, “the Russian enemy carried out massive artillery shelling of civilian infrastructure, including multiple-rocket launchers,” Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office said that as of May 20, 232 children had been killed and 427 wounded since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

In a regular address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had “completely destroyed” Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

“It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address, repeating his accusation that Russia is committing genocide, a claim Moscow has denied.

Zelenskiy also said that in the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, the village of Desna was hit with Russian missiles on May 19 and that many were killed. Desna is some 70 kilometers from the border with Belarus.

Zelenskiy spoke on May 19 with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about a range of issues, including financial aid to assist the shattered Ukrainian economy, agricultural exports, and “the evacuation of our heroes from Azovstal.”

Shoigu said on May 20 that the “liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic” – a territory in Ukraine recognized by Russia as independent and controlled by Moscow-backed separatists – would be completed soon.

The minister also said Russia would beef up its western defenses with troops and 12 additional military bases in response to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO.

The two Nordic countries shed their longtime neutrality this week by formally submitting applications to join the alliance, saying the move was necessary because of security concerns sparked by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, DPA, BBC, CNN, and TASS

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