One of the commanders of the “Azov” battalion that for weeks led the resistance to the siege by Russian troops of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol announced after his return on Saturday from Turkey along with four colleagues and the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky, his intention to return to the front.
“Of course. That’s why we went back to Ukraine. That is our main objective,” said Denis Prokopenko, quoted by the Interfax Ukraine agency, when asked about it by the press gathered in Lviv, where they arrived from Turkey.
He also thanked the “president, his team, the defense forces and each of the soldiers who continued to fight the invaders on the front lines” while they were in Russian captivity.
”I am deeply convinced that the army is a team effort and from today we will continue the fight with you. We will definitely still say our word in battle.”he claimed.
He added that “the main thing today is that the Ukrainian army took the strategic initiative on the front line.”
“And every day we advance, we destroy the enemy, we liberate the temporarily occupied territories, and I am sure that we will do everything possible and impossible to speed up this process, so that the war comes to its logical end,” he said.
For his part, the Ukrainian president celebrated having “brought back home” on the 500th day of the war to Denis Prokopenko, Sviatoslav Palamar, Sergey Volinsky, Oleg Khomenko and Denis Shlega, “Heroes of Ukraine, the commanders who defended Mariupol and Azovstal”.
”They fought for Ukraine, they fought heroically, absolutely. They went through Russian captivity, then they spent more than 300 days in Turkey, it’s time for them to be home“, he claimed.
The sprawling steelworks was the last bastion of resistance when Russian forces seized control of the port city of Mariupol. Its defenders became famous among the Ukrainians for resisting in miserable conditions in the tunnels and corridors of the plant.
The more than 2,000 defenders of Azovstal they left the steel mill in mid-May 2022 and were taken into Russian captivity. The five leaders, some of whom were part of the Azov national guard regiment that Russia denounces as neo-Nazi, were freed in a prisoner exchange in September and taken to Turkey.
Since then they have been in Turkey under the personal protection and security guarantees of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had mediated for their release in a prisoner exchange with Russia.
According to the exchange, the leaders were to remain in Turkey until the end of the war under the protection of the Turkish president. There was no immediate official explanation from Ankara or kyiv as to why they were allowed to return to Ukraine.
“The return of the leaders of the Azovites from Turkey to Ukraine is nothing more than a direct violation of the terms of the existing agreements. Also, in this case, the terms were violated by both the Ukrainian and the Turkish sides,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
(with information from EFE and AP)
Zelensky returned from Turkey with five commanders who resisted in Mariupol: “We bring our heroes home”
The Russians continue to install explosives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe
Zelensky meets with the Turkish president on a tour to ask for more military support and encourage Ukraine’s membership in NATO