• This Tuesday, 265 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the now famous factory of Azovstal, in Mariupol, surrendered to Russian forces.

  • Some of them formed the Azov Battalion, a paramilitary group accused by the head of the Kremlin of being “neo-Nazis”.

  • 20 Minutes looks

    back at the origins of this regiment of anti-heroes and wonders about the fate Russia has in store for them, now that some of them have been taken prisoner.

They were the last fighters, the last pocket of resistance against the Russian army.

This Tuesday, Moscow announced the surrender of 265 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the Azovstal steelworks.

More than soldiers, some of these resisters were part of the Azov Battalion, a group of far-right paramilitaries that Vladimir Putin has widely cited to justify the “denazification” of Ukraine.

But who are they?

Are these rumors true?

And what fate does the head of the Kremlin have in store for them?

20 Minutes

takes stock.

Who is part of the Azov regiment?

Azov is a far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group, founded on May 5, 2014 and taking its name from the Azov Sea, which borders the country.

In the midst of the Donbass war, Ukraine has to deal with a demotivated and disorganized army.

In this context, the Minister of the Interior at the time, Arsen Avakov, decided to form special armed militias.

They will come in reinforcement of the national army.

The Azov Battalion quickly distinguished itself by retaking Mariupol from the pro-Russian separatists as soon as it was created in 2014. All of their combat actions, carried out in parallel with those of the national army, are called "anti-terrorist operations" (ATO).

The battalion is then accused of "human rights violations" by pro-Russian separatists, but also by Western NGOs.

If, originally, this regiment had a handful of men in its ranks, today it would be made up of 3,500 to 5,000 fighters, according to

Liberation

.

The Azov regiment or “neo-Nazi”

fighters ?

At the origin of the Azov battalion, we find a man: Andrei Biletsky.

And it is the stormy reputation of the latter which will forge the ultranationalist image of the regiment.

Originally from Russian-speaking Kharkiv, Andrei Biletsky is a 42-year-old fervent hooligan who has never hidden his appetite for National Socialist but also racialist theses.

A time at the head of the xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist party Social-National Assembly (SNA), Andreï Biletsky will be inspired by the emblem of this party, itself inspired by the Nazi party, to create that of the Azov battalion.

On a yellow background, the Azov flag proudly displays an inverted wolfsangel (wolf hook) reminiscent of the emblem of the German 2nd SS Division “Das Reich”.

"Russia's golden age has already passed.


Ukraine's golden age is yet to begin."


- Andriy Biletskiy pic.twitter.com/79GC92dAYX

— 𝕾𝖓𝖆𝖚𝖙 (@Snaut14) October 22, 2021


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Eight years after its creation, the Azov battalion does not necessarily have in its ranks only far-right profiles.

In the columns of

Liberation

, the historian Vyacheslav Likhachev points to a more heterogeneous composition: “I personally knew an anarchist who served in Azov, as well as a former participant in Anti-Maidan [movement against the Ukrainian revolution of 2014] , for whom Russian aggression had become inappropriate,” he recalls. 

Not to mention that today, many members of the battalion are seen as heroes by Ukrainians, symbols of resistance to the Russian invasion launched on February 24.

“For eighty-two days, the defenders of Mariupol carried out the orders despite the difficulties, pushed back the overwhelming forces of the enemy”, thus detailed this Tuesday on social networks the Azov regiment.

Video of Ukrainian soldier in #Azovstal smirking at shelling.

This guy is a badass!😂🙏🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/eVYpRBfqWX

— WarMonitor🇺🇦 (@WarMonitor3) May 16, 2022


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It is also on these same networks (Facebook above all) that the regiment communicates on its resistance to Russian troops or organizes press conferences, from the basements of the Azovstal steelworks.

This has brought out the leading figures of the small group: Ilya Samoilenko, second in command of the Azov regiment or commander Denys Prokopenko.

Why does Vladimir Putin risk making these soldiers war criminals?

The Azov Battalion for Vladimir Putin is a godsend.

The head of the Kremlin has, in fact, often used the troubled past of the small group to justify the “denazification” of Ukraine.

While he has just taken some of these soldiers prisoner, the question of how he will treat them remains: prisoners or war criminals?

According to kyiv, these soldiers will be the subject of a prisoner exchange.

"From our side, we can say that the negotiations are still ongoing," said Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

The Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, not to mention the case of Mariupol in particular, for his part, assured on his Telegram account that "Nazi criminals should not be the subject of an exchange of prisoners ".

The Prosecutor General of Russia would have asked the Supreme Court to qualify the Azov Regiment as a "terrorist organization", reports the Interfax agency, citing the website of the Ministry of Justice.

The Supreme Court of Russia must examine this request on May 26th.

World

War in Ukraine: But what about the Ukrainian resistance at the Azovstal steelworks?

  • World

  • War in Ukraine

  • Vladimir Poutine

  • Volodymyr Zelensky

  • Russia

  • UNITED STATES

Keywords: