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09 Jul. 2023

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Return of Azovstal commanders home: what we know and why it is a symbolic event for Ukraine

Der Weg zum Sieg
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Return of Azovstal commanders home: what we know and why it is a symbolic event for Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned from Turkey with five heroic defenders of Mariupol. Learn more about the exchange and the fate of the commanders who defended Azovstal, russia's reaction to the return of the heroes, and the significance of this event for Ukraine

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The 500th day of the full-scale war was marked by a truly joyful event for Ukrainians. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team returned five Azovstal defense commanders to Ukraine: Deputy Commander of the Azov Regiment Svyatoslav Palamar (call sign Kalyna), Azov Commander Denys Prokopenko (Redis), Senior Officer Oleh Khomenko, Acting Commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade Serhiy Volynskyy (Volyn), and Commander of the 12th Brigade of the National Guard Denys Shleha.


In September last year, the heroes were released from russian captivity and, according to agreements with russia, were to remain in Turkey until the end of the war under the personal guarantees of President Recep Erdogan.


Timeline of the return of the heroes


The information about the return of the five Azovstal defense commanders first appeared on the official channels of President Zelensky and his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak. They posted a video of a meeting with the military in which the soldiers greeted the country's leadership at a Turkish airport and boarded a flight, followed by footage from the plane.

In the evening of July 8, hundreds of people, including many military personnel, met the soldiers and the country's leadership in the center of Lviv, near the Shevchenko monument. During the press conference, the heroes thanked the President's team for returning home and announced their intention to continue fighting the enemy. In particular, Azov commander Denys Prokopenko (Redis) said he was ready to return to the front.


Reaction in russia to the return of the Mariupol defenders


The kremlin said that the return of the commanders to Ukraine is now a violation of the agreements. According to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, no one warned russia about the transfer of the military. The agreement was violated by both the Ukrainian and Turkish sides. 




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Captivity, release and stay in Turkey


In the spring of 2022, Azovstal became the last center of defense in Mariupol. Thousands of civilians were hiding in bunkers there, while the military tried to continue the fight.

All this time, the plant was attacked with bombs and other heavy weapons, and in the bunkers, there were living soldiers next to the dead and seriously wounded.

In May 2022, following the president's order, the soldiers and civilians left the plant. That's how all the soldiers were taken prisoner by russia. Little is known about what the defenders of Mariupol went through and are going through in captivity.

In September 2022, a large-scale exchange took place and Ukraine received 215 prisoners, including many defenders of Azovstal Mariupol, including 108 Azovites. They were exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 russian soldiers.

After their release, the commanders lived in Turkey. The city was classified, but from time to time they were allowed to meet with their families under strict conditions. For many months there was no news about the heroes. 

In Turkey, five of the commanders were awarded the title of Heroes of Ukraine and presented with the Golden Star Order.


The story of the other captured Azovstal soldiers


In general, prisoner exchanges took place quite often this year, but there were very few Azovites among them. According to the Women of Steel organization, 20% of the people who left Azovstal were returned home during the year, which means that about 2,000 soldiers are still in captivity.

Also in June of this year, a trial of 22 Ukrainian soldiers, including 8 women who worked in the kitchen of the Azov regiment's supply department, began in Rostov-on-Don. They face from 15 years in prison to life imprisonment. Read more about the case here


What is the significance of the return of the soldiers to Ukraine?


The return of Azovstal's defenders home is a powerful signal for the entire country and the Ukrainian army in particular. By doing so, the government has stated that it will not abandon its soldiers and will return every Ukrainian. These words are confirmed by statements made by the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Lieutenant General Valeriy Kondratyuk. 

In addition, according to him, Ukraine will take all possible diplomatic and military measures to return every prisoner home. The fact that the commanders who defended Azovstal were brought to Ukraine is a great merit of the President of Ukraine personally.


We believe in the victory of the Ukrainian Armed Forces! We are waiting for every Ukrainian at home!


We remind you! The return of the russian-occupied territories is not only the goal of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but also the sincere desire of every Ukrainian. Read about the problems that Ukraine will face after the de-occupation of Crimea and Donbas and how to solve them in our previous article.


Photo: Office of the President of Ukraine




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