Russia has begun handing over the bodies of Ukrainian fighters killed at the Azovstal steelworks, a plant in the Mariupol city that has become a symbol of resistance against the invasion of Moscow, the Associated Press reports.
Dozens of bodies recovered from the ruins of the now Russian-occupied bombed-out steelmaker have been transferred to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where DNA tests are being carried out to identify the remains, said Maksym Zhorin, a military commander and former leader of the Azov Regiment.
The Azov Regiment was among the Ukrainian units that defended the factory for almost three months before surrendering.
It is unclear how many bodies were left under the rubble of the factory, which was ruthlessly hit by Russian forces in the air and at sea.
The tenacious defense of the steel fighters frustrated the Kremlin, which wanted to capture Mariupol quickly.
The last fighters in Azovstal, more than 2,400 fighters in total, finally surrendered at the factory in May. The fate of the survivors, which is now in the hands of Russia, is shrouded in uncertainty, says hotnews.ro.
Russia hands over bodies of Azovstal fighters, but trucks of corpses from that factory await identification
The recovery of the remains of the fighters from the ruins of Azovstal has not been announced by the Ukrainian government. But relatives of the soldiers killed at the factory discussed handing over the remains to The Associated Press.
The Ukrainian government’s Ministry for the Reintegration of the Occupied Territories announced on Saturday the first officially confirmed exchange of remnants of soldiers from the start of the war. The two sides are said to have exchanged a total of 320 bodies, each receiving 160 bodies.
The exchange took place on Thursday in the front line of the Zaporozhye region in southern Ukraine. Parts of that region are under Russian control.
The Avoz Regiment is a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard that emerged from a group called the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 as one of the many volunteer brigades that emerged to fight the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Azov Battalion drew the first fighters from far-right circles.
Zhorin, the former leader of the Azov Regiment, who is one of the commanders of a military unit in Kyiv, confirmed that the remains recovered from Azovstal are among those exchanged.
The brother of a missing Azov fighter who is believed to have died in the steelworks told the AP that at least two trucks of corpses from Azovstal had transferred the remains to a military hospital in Kyiv for identification.
Viacheslav Drofa said that the remains of his older brother, Dmitri Lisen, did not appear to be among those recovered so far.
The bodies were recovered from the plant last week, and some were severely burned, he said.
The mother of a soldier killed in a Russian airstrike on the factory said the Azov regiment called her and said her son’s body could be among those transferred to Kyiv.
The mother did not want her or her son to be identified by name, saying she feared the discussion could disrupt the body’s recovery process.
She referred to her son in tears as a hero and said he wanted to be able to bury his remains.
“I’m just waiting for my son’s body,” she said. “It is important for me to bury him on our Ukrainian soil.”
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