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Separatist leader says hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers still in steel plant

More than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers including senior commanders remain inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol, a pro-Russian separatist leader says.

Russia’s defense ministry says that 959 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered since Monday at the plant, which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russian forces.

Speaking to reporters in Mariupol, the leader of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, says there had been about 2,000 fighters in the sprawling industrial complex and “a little more than half” remained inside.

“Commanders and high-ranking fighters of (the) Azov (regiment) have not yet come out,” he tells journalists, including from AFP, on a press tour organized by the Russian military.

This photo released on May 10, 2022 by the Azov regiment shows two injured Ukrainian servicemen inside the Azovstal iron and steel works factory in eastern Mariupol, Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion. (Dmytro ‘Orest’ Kozatskyi / Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office / AFP)

The Azov regiment, a former paramilitary unit created in 2014, has integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces. Russia describes the unit, which has previous links to far-right groups, as a neo-Nazi organization.

Russia’s defense ministry says 80 wounded were among those who had surrendered since Monday and that some were being treated in a hospital in the town of Novoazovsk in Russian-controlled territory.

Pushilin said some of the wounded were also being treated in the city of Donetsk and that the rest of those who emerged from the plant were being held under guard in a prison colony.

Kyiv is hoping to exchange the Ukrainian fighters, but Russia has yet to confirm whether they will be part of a prisoner swap.

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