PARIS: For weeks, they have fascinated the whole world: under the steel of Mariupol (south), the Ukrainian troops of Azovstal resisted Russian shelling.
But a month after the surrender, their relatives have no news. All that remains of this Homeric war is a terrifying silence that is proud.
Are they dead or alive? Tortured? Are they considered “neo-Nazi” fighters, a qualification used by Moscow to nominate fighters belonging to the Azov Battalion or as prisoners of war, which would guarantee them advanced treatment?
Meeting AFP in Paris and Kiev, a wife, girlfriend, mother and sister of these Azvastal soldiers described the unbearable wait from May 20, when their commander, Denis Prokopenko, with a large bandage on his right arm and swollen left, confirmed that “higher Military Command (instructed our garrison soldiers to save lives and stop defending the city).
The surrender began several days ago. But he stayed until the end.
To his wife, Caterina, Denis Prokopenko privately explained that “everything will be fine” and that they “will see each other again soon”, recalling the latter, who refuses to pass for “Huiner” on his behalf, and replies that He’s “like a Marvel hero, but in real life”.
Sergei Volinsky, another Azvastal official, “sent one last text message to his relatives indicating that there would be no further contact,” described his sister Tatiana Kharko, 32, from Kiev.
“Not a wordA
Since then, “not a word, absolutely nothing, I don’t know where he is, if he is fed, if he is tortured”, he gets scared. “There are reports in the Russian media that some have been relocated to Moscow, others elsewhere in Russia.”
“I haven’t spoken to her in over a month. I’m just waiting for her to call me. It makes me very nervous,” Katrina Prokopenko agreed.
If 95 “defenders of Azovstal”, according to him, are exchanged for “seriously injured” all Russian prisoners – an announcement by Kiev on Wednesday – does not filter anything into the fate of others.
Andrei Yarmak, a close aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, recently announced that “he does not know under what circumstances (these soldiers) are being detained.” “But we’re sure they survived.”
According to Moscow, 2,439 Ukrainian fighters were captured in Azovstal, a huge steelwork where they took refuge after being expelled from other districts of Mariupol.
Despite incessant Russian attacks and a lack of food and ammunition, they continued fighting for weeks. Gaining a lot of respect in Ukraine and abroad through underground bomb blast videos mixed with courage and patriotism.
“My brother addressed the Pope and said: + You must have seen a lot in this life, but I’m sure you’ve never seen what’s happening in Mariupol, because it looks like hell +”, recalls Tatiana Kharko.
For media coverage of which Russia had little taste, Moscow nominated the Azov Regiment in charge of the Azovstal as a neo-Nazi unit, which AFP talks officially denied.
Donetsk’s self-proclaimed republic, a pro-Russian entity, has been fighting for secession from Ukraine since 2014, describing it as a “terrorist organization” with “crimes” punishable by “capital punishment” according to its “justice minister.” “Yuri Sirovatko.
In early June, the separatist authorities sentenced two British and one Moroccan prisoner to death in Ukraine.
The “theater” for Katarina Prokopenko, who accuses Russia of wanting to “negotiate” with the West through this “diplomatic blackmail.” As reported to the Azvestal fighters, the commander’s wife expects “enemy” justice to treat her husband “with respect” because he is “a real soldier.”
“I believe in only 1%, he continues. But this one percent makes me feel better.”
Alla Samoilenko, Ilya’s mother, a fighter whose perfect English and black artificiality ended up on a black hook – the remnant of a hand torn in the war in 2017 – appeared in many Western media, saying she was “silent” when her son was in the basement of the steel complex. Was.
“Elijah gave me his position, his opinion. I felt I had to trust him,” he says. But since his capture, ‘my sleep has stopped’.
Elijah’s girlfriend Daria Sikunova has joined an association of wives and daughters of Azovstal fighters. “I realized that our voices could help them.”
Kateryna Prokopenko, Alla Samoilenko and Daria Tsykunova were in Paris last week, invited to a preview of a documentary on Ukraine. All three wore T-shirts marked “Free Azovstal Defender.”
These women of the “heroes” of Azvestal try to liberate their men by the sheer force of their voices. “We need the world to continue to look at them,” said Daria Sikunova. “We must save them.”