The remains of dozens of bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in the battle for the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have been returned to Ukraine and have begun to arrive in Kiev, the Ukrainian government said on Tuesday.
Many of the fighters killed were members of the Azov regiment, which for months led the defense of the city against relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air until their surrender in May.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Reintegration of the Occupied Territories announced last weekend the first officially confirmed exchange of war dead since the start of the conflict. It said the two sides exchanged a total of 320 bodies, with each recovering 160 sets of remains. It gave no details on where the bodies were recovered.
On Tuesday, citing the Association of Families of Defenders of Azovstal, the Ukrainian government said that about a third of the bodies transferred by Russia were members of the Azov regiment. Forensic experts examine the bodies and conduct DNA analyzes to determine their identities.
Now that Mariupol is fully under Russian control, it is not clear whether all the bodies have been recovered from the factory.
Speaking to journalists in Kiev on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia is holding more than 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers from the steel plant as prisoners of war. While little is known about their condition, he said Ukraine’s first goal regarding the soldiers had been accomplished: they could leave the factory with their lives.
“Today’s the second part – to bring them home alive,” he said.