5 Ukrainian commanders of the Azov Regiment, extolled in Ukraine for defending the port metropolis of Mariupol final yr throughout an 80-day Russian siege earlier than they surrendered as prisoners of warfare, have been given a heroes’ welcome after returning dwelling.
The lads appeared with President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier than crowds late Saturday within the western metropolis of Lviv after returning to Ukraine from Turkey, the place that they had been held since September below the phrases of a prisoner change with Russia. Denys Prokopenko, one of many commanders who was returned, stated that the freed fighters would rejoin the entrance traces, in line with a video posted on Twitter by native information media.
“We will certainly have our say in battle,” Mr. Prokopenko, the regiment’s commander advised reporters in Lviv. Requested whether or not he would struggle on the entrance traces, he replied, “That’s the reason we returned to Ukraine.”
Moscow reacted angrily to the information that the Azov fighters had returned to Ukraine. The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, accused Turkey of breaking an settlement to maintain the lads on its territory till the tip of the warfare in Ukraine. There was no fast remark from the Turkish authorities. The federal government in Kyiv didn’t provide a public clarification of how or why the fighters got here to be returned to Ukraine.
Mr. Peskov claimed that the choice was tied to what he stated was Ukraine’s failure in a counteroffensive that started final month. Ukraine has claimed it’s making small however regular features in its grueling marketing campaign to reclaim territory within the south and east of the nation. However Mr. Peskov stated that Turkey had been put below strain by fellow NATO members to permit the Ukrainians to return dwelling to distract consideration from the faltering effort to regain territory. He supplied no proof for his claims.
Russian forces lowered Mariupol to rubble earlier than capturing it, however the Azov fighters then held out for weeks within the metropolis’s large Azovstal metal works, residing in underground bunkers below a relentless bombardment. They surrendered on Could 20 below orders from the federal government in Kyiv. Nonetheless, their resistance made them an emblem of the nation’s navy defiance and lots of Ukrainians noticed their return as an pressing nationwide precedence. Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly pledged to safe the discharge of all Ukrainian prisoners of warfare.
The Azov fighters are reviled in Russia, and the Kremlin propaganda machine had lengthy sought to make use of the far-right origins of the Azov regiment as proof of its false declare that the Ukrainian state has been infested with Nazism.
The lads have been in Turkey below a deal introduced in September, below which 215 Ukrainian prisoners of warfare have been launched in change for the discharge of Viktor Medvedchuk, a rich Ukrainian businessman and shut good friend of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and 54 different Russian prisoners of warfare. It was not clear what number of members of the Azov battalion stay imprisoned.
Mr. Zelensky visited Ankara on Friday and Saturday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey forward of a significant NATO summit in Lithuania that begins subsequent week, at which Ukraine’s fledgling utility for membership of the alliance will probably be excessive on the agenda. Turkey has opposed Russia’s invasion, and Mr. Erdogan has expressed help for Ukraine’s utility for membership in NATO, however he has additionally sought to keep up an in depth relationship with Mr. Putin.
The Azov fighters returned dwelling on the five hundredth day since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians view that date each as a second to replicate on the loss of life and destruction that the nation has confronted, but additionally as the beginning of a brand new section of heroic resistance to Moscow.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland met with Mr. Zelensky on Sunday throughout a go to to the western Ukrainian metropolis of Lutsk, the place they attended a church service to mark the anniversary of massacres of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists throughout World Struggle II. Poland, one other NATO member, is considered one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters.
Ukraine appeared to verify that its forces have been behind an explosion in October that destroyed a part of the Kerch Strait Bridge linking Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, one of the crucial spectacular strikes towards Moscow’s pursuits because the full-scale invasion started.
Whereas Ukrainians celebrated the assault on the bridge as a humiliation for Mr. Putin, who had taken private delight in its building, the federal government in Kyiv had not formally claimed it. However on Saturday, Ukraine’s deputy protection minister Hanna Malyar listed the explosion as one of many nation’s achievements within the 500 days since Russia’s full-scale invasion started. Responding to the publish, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian International Ministry, stated the federal government in Kyiv was a “terrorist regime.”
Paul Sonne contributed reporting.