AP Exclusive: Russia returns bodies to steel mills

KYIV, Ukraine -- Dozens Ukrainian fighters who were killed at the Azovstal Steelworks have been returned home to Ukraine by Russian occupiers.

AP Exclusive: Russia returns bodies to steel mills

KYIV, Ukraine -- Dozens Ukrainian fighters who were killed at the Azovstal Steelworks have been returned home to Ukraine by Russian occupiers. The fortress-like plant is located in Mariupol's destroyed city. It was where they last stand and became a symbol against Moscow's invasion.

According to a spokesperson for the Azov Regiment, the dead were taken from the ruin of the mill and transferred to Kyiv, Ukraine. DNA testing is currently underway to identify them.

The Azov Regiment was one of the Ukrainian units that protected the steelworks for almost three months, before it was surrendered to Russian forces in May.

It wasn't clear how many bodies may still be at the plant.

Russian forces continued fighting for control of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, which is crucial to Moscow's goal to capture the industrial Donbass region.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, stated that Ukrainian forces held their positions in the city despite fierce fighting in the streets and Russia trying to deploy more troops.

"But it's the 103rd Day, and the Ukrainian Donbas Stands." He said this in his nightly address.

Zelenskyy also stated that Moscow's forces plan to seize Zaporizhzhia in the southeast, which is home to over 700,000. This move could seriously weaken Ukraine and allow Russia's military to advance closer towards the center.

Zelenskyy stated that "in the Zaporizhzhia area... there are the most dangerous situations there."

The Kremlin was unable to capture Mariupol quickly because of the persistent defense of the steel mill by the Ukrainian fighters. They were able to tie down Russian forces in this strategic port city.

Russian authorities are uncertain about the fate of the defenders. Zelenskyy stated that more than 2,500 fighters are held in Russian hands and that Ukraine is trying to free them.

Russian officials and the Ukrainian government have not yet announced the recovery of their remains from Azovstal ruins. The Associated Press spoke to relatives of soldiers who were killed at the plant.

The first official confirmation of a swap between Ukraine's military dead was made on Saturday. The two sides exchanged 320 corpses, with each side receiving 160 sets of remains. The swap was made at the Zaporizhzhia front line.

Spokeswoman for the Azov Regiment Anna Holovko stated that all 160 bodies of Ukrainians turned over to the Russians were taken from the Azovstal ruin. At least 52 of the bodies were believed to be from Azov Regiment soldiers, she said.

Maksym Zhorin (a former Azov Regiment leader who is now co-commanding an army unit based in Kyiv) confirmed that the bodies were from the steel plant.

According to the brother of Azov fighters who were missing in the steelworks and feared dead, the AP received confirmation from the steelworks that at least two trucks with Azovstal bodies had been transferred to a military hospital in Kyiv. This was for identification.

Viacheslav Drofa stated that the remains of Dmitry Lisen (his elder brother) were not among those found so far. He said that some of the deceased were badly burned.

A mother of a soldier who was killed in an attack on the plant claimed that the Azov Regiment called her to inform her that her son's body may be being transferred to Kyiv. She did not wish to identify her son or her mother by name because she was afraid that sharing the recovery process could disrupt it.

She cried as she referred to her son, calling him a hero. She said, "It is important for me that he buried in our Ukrainian land."

Other developments Monday included Ukraine's efforts against Russia's invasion dominating D-Day commemorations held in France, where the Normandy invasion's 78th year anniversary was observed.

Army Gen. Mark Milley (chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff) stated that the fight in Ukraine was about honoring the veterans of World War II at the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy.

He said, "It's all about maintaining the so called global rules-based international order established by the deceased who are buried here at the cemetery."

The president of Ukraine's separatist Donetsk People's Republic stated that three British men are being tried in the pro-Moscow area for being mercenaries to Ukraine. The men could be sentenced to death if they are convicted of the charges.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President, signed a decree that paid lump-sum payments in the amount of 5 million rubles (81,000 dollars) to the families of Russian National Guard soldiers who died in Ukraine. These operations included the seizing of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Guard members took part in these operations. The lump sum is six times the average Russian salary.

Russian warplanes used long-range missiles on the battlefield to destroy a plant that was repairing armored vehicles. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, said.

Konashenkov stated that Russian aircraft struck 73 areas of concentration for Ukrainian troops and equipment while Russian artillery hit 431 military targets. His claims were not independently verified.

Ukrainian forces resist in Sievierodonetsk, and other areas.

Zelenskyy stated that there are more of them and they are stronger, but that we still have the chance to fight in this direction.

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This story was contributed by Sylvie Corbet, Colleville-sur Mer, France and David Keyton, Oleksandr Stanislavskyi, in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau, in Lviv Ukraine, Andrea Rosa, in Bakhmut, Ukraine, and Sylvie Corbet, in Colleville–sur-Mer.

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Follow AP's coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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