A Russian director condemns the war at the Cannes Film Festival

Fighting continues to rage in several parts of Ukraine as kyiv negotiates the release of soldiers locked up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on May 18 that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters at the steel plant – Ukraine’s last stronghold in the besieged port city of Mariupol – have “surrendered”, including 694 in the past 24 hours.

Konashenkov said 265 Ukrainian soldiers, including 51 wounded, had laid down their arms in the past 24 hours.

This brings the total number of Ukrainian soldiers who left the factory this week to 959. All were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the figures, with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar saying negotiations for the release of the fighters were ongoing, as were plans to extract those still in the interior of the sprawling steelworks.

“The state is doing everything possible to carry out the rescue of our servicemen. Let’s wait. Currently, the most important thing is to save the lives of our heroes,” added Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik.

“Any information to the public could endanger this process,” he added.

Reports estimated that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters had been locked up in Azovstal.

Thousands of civilians, including some family members of fighters, had also been sheltered in the industrial complex’s sprawling maze of tunnels and bunkers, in increasingly dire sanitary conditions, without food, water or medicine.

Large numbers of civilians were evacuated, some to Ukraine, others to Russian-held parts of Ukraine, where they were interned in so-called triage camps, often against their will.

Anna Zaitseva, a young civilian who managed to leave Azovstal after two months, described to Current Time on May 18 the conditions inside the bunkers where she and other civilians had been sheltered.

She said the civilians lived in separate quarters from the fighters, who regularly provided them with food and sometimes news of their relatives. Anna was unable to see her husband, who was one of the fighters defending the compound, for the duration of her stay.

“The stocks of food, water, medicine are almost exhausted. And above all, there are the injured guys, who, unfortunately, now find themselves without medical care,” Anna said, adding, “they are without arms, without legs, their bodies rot.”

Anna said she found out that her husband had been seriously injured but she does not know if he is one of those who left Azovstal already or if he is still there.

“I don’t know his current situation, but all the information I have received is that he is seriously injured. Unfortunately, he is unable to walk now. He’s on crutches,” she said.

kyiv has said it hopes to exchange the surrendered Ukrainian fighters for Russian POWs. Russia has yet to confirm whether the soldiers would be part of a prisoner swap, but some Moscow lawmakers have come out strongly against such a move.

Launching the invasion on February 24, President Vladimir Putin called the expansion of the NATO military alliance a threat to Russia – even though Ukraine had not formally applied to join the alliance. – thus necessitating what Moscow calls a “Military Operation.”

However, the war appears to have had the opposite effect on this front, with Finland and Sweden both formally applying for NATO membership on May 18, citing heightened security risks from the unprovoked war of the Russia.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mile) border with Russia, and Sweden were both militarily unaligned throughout the Cold War, and their decision to join NATO represents the biggest change in European security for decades. It will more than double the alliance’s land border with Russia and give NATO control of almost the entire Baltic Sea coast.

“This is a historic moment that we must seize,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Meanwhile, the cost of war in terms of human lives continues to rise.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says 3,752 civilians have been killed in the 12 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, while 4,062 others were injured.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by shelling, missiles and airstrikes, OHCHR said, adding that given difficulties in verifying information on the ground, the actual figures for civilian deaths in the conflict are probably considerably higher.

Russia has repeatedly asserted that it did not target civilians in combat, but evidence to the contrary continues to mount.

On May 18, the first Russian soldier to stand trial for committing a war crime in Ukraine pleaded guilty during a hearing in a kyiv court.

When asked in court whether he had killed a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian riding a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the northeastern region of Sumy, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie at the hearing, replied, “Yes.”

Shishimarin, from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, faces life in prison for this crime.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its May 18 Daily Intelligence Bulletin that fierce Ukrainian resistance likely forced Moscow to use thousands of Chechen fighters in the Mariupol and Luhansk regions, pointing to its “significant resource problems in Ukraine”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian fighters would be treated “in accordance with international standards”, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed it.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a May 18 update that Russian forces were also attacking in Donetsk in the east and continuing to shell the border areas of Chernihiv and Sumy.

With reporting from Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC and TASS

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