Ukraine troops are unlikely to be able to get out of the steel mill easily

After the evacuation of some civilians from the steel mill under Russian siege in the port city of Mariupol the attention has turned to the fates of hundreds of Ukrainian troops trapped in the underground tunnels and bunkers of the plant for weeks.

Ukraine troops are unlikely to be able to get out of the steel mill easily

After the evacuation of some civilians from the steel mill under Russian siege in the port city of Mariupol the attention has turned to the fates of hundreds of Ukrainian troops trapped in the underground tunnels and bunkers of the plant for weeks.

Their ranks include both the able-bodied as well as the wounded. They have the option of either fighting to death or surrendering in the hope of being protected under international humanitarian law. Experts warn that the troops will not be able to escape and could have difficulties getting out as free men, or even alive.

Marco Sassoli, a professor of international legal at the University of Geneva, stated that while they have the right to fight to the death, but they could be held if Russia surrenders to them. It's their choice.

Laurie Blank, Emory Law School's Atlanta professor specializing in international humanitarian law, stated that injured fighters are "horse de combat" and can be held as prisoners of war.

She stated that Russia could allow the wounded Ukrainian troops to return to their areas, but it is not required to do so.

After a brutal, obliterating siege at Mariupol, the sprawling Azovstal mill on the coast of southeastern Ukraine is a key military objective of Russian forces.

Two wives of soldiers from Ukraine have been visiting Rome to plead with the international community to evacuate them.

According to Kateryna Prokopenko's husband, Denys Prokopenko commands the Azov Regiment at this plant, she did not hear from him for 36 hours before finally getting a call Wednesday.

He explained to her that Russian soldiers had entered Azovstal, and "our soldiers fighting, it's crazy and difficult for me to explain."

Kateryna Prokopenko stated, "We don’t want them dying, they won’t surrender." They are waiting for the bravest nations to evacuate them. After this long blockade, we won't allow this tragedy to happen."

"We must also evacuate our men."

The Ukrainian authorities also demanded that Russia provide safe exit for the Azovstal soldiers -- along with their arms.

Experts say that it would be almost impossible for them to simply be allowed to wander free. Not least because they could re-arm and cause Russian casualties.

She stated that Russia could allow the wounded Ukrainian troops to return to their areas, but it is not required to do so.

After a brutal, obliterating siege at Mariupol, the sprawling Azovstal mill on the coast of southeastern Ukraine is a key military objective of Russian forces.

Two wives of soldiers from Ukraine have been visiting Rome to plead with the international community to evacuate them.

According to Kateryna Prokopenko's husband, Denys Prokopenko commands the Azov Regiment at this plant, she did not hear from him for 36 hours before finally getting a call Wednesday.

He explained to her that Russian soldiers had entered Azovstal, and that "our soldiers fighting, it's crazy and difficult for me to explain."

Kateryna Prokopenko stated, "We don’t want them dying, they won’t surrender." They are waiting for the bravest nations to evacuate them. After this long blockade, we won't allow this tragedy to happen."

"We must also evacuate our men."

The Ukrainian authorities also demanded that Russia provide safe exit for the Azovstal soldiers -- along with their arms.

Experts say that it would be almost impossible for them to simply be allowed to wander free. Not least because they could re-arm and cause Russian casualties.

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Blank stated via email that it was unlikely that Russia would allow Ukrainian troops with weapons to leave the plant. Nothing in the law would permit that.

Instead, the Russian military called for the Azovstal troops to surrender their weapons and bring out white flags. In accordance with international law, it states that surrendering soldiers will not be executed.

However, the commanders of the Ukrainian resistance at this plant have repeatedly denied that. Sviatoslav Palmar, the Azov Regiment deputy commander, stated that his forces were exhausted but promised to "hold the line".

It is not known if Russia would honor its international obligations regarding POWs in the event that the Azovstal fighters were taken prisoner. This is due to Russia's alleged violations of rules governing war conduct, and the lack of evidence about how it treated the Ukrainian soldiers it currently has in custody.

Two and a half months worth of war saw both sides allegedly violate international norms. This can be seen in the evidence of execution-style killings and desecrations of corpses, which may have been Russian troops from outside Kharkiv.

The protection of POWs dates back to generations, including the 1863 Lieber Code which was created during the U.S. Civil War. These rules were a boon to Moscow during World War II when Nazi forces used them in some cases with Russian detainees.

The Geneva Conventions stipulate that POWs must be treated humanely at all times and not subject to "physical mutilation" or "medical or scientific experiments" that aren’t necessary for their health. Wounded or sick members of the armed forces must be treated with respect and protection in all situations.

Prisoners of war can be sent to other countries to prevent them returning to the battlefield, unlike civilians.

The Geneva Conventions' 2016 Interpretive Document states that medical treatment for POWs is essential and "the soldier who is injured or sick and is therefore hors d combat is from that point onwards inviolable."

However, there are differences in interpretation as to whether wounded combatants can be targeted in war. Sassoli was part of a three-person team that was commissioned by the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe and travelled to Ukraine in March.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is a key and almost exclusive mediator in world conflicts. It arranges prisoner swaps and monitors detainee conditions. The ICRC also collects the names of POWs, and sends them back to their families and governments.

The ICRC has yet to say whether it has had contact with any Russian POWs since February 24, when the war began. This silence, Sassoli suggested, could be a "bad signal."

When Jason Straziuso was asked by AP if ICRC had visited war detainees, he briefly replied, "The issue prisoner of war is extremely important, and we are closely engaging the parties to this conflict on the topic."

Pascal Hundt, the chief of the ICRC in Ukraine, said Tuesday that only civilians were included in a Russian-Ukrainian agreement that resulted in the recent evacuations form Azovstal. He expressed doubt that any other person might be able to escape.

Hundt stated that the ICRC is not able to exert any leverage in reaching a ceasefire agreement. It is up to the parties, he said. "We will continue to push, even if there is little hope. We'll keep pushing -- and we're ready to go anywhere."

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