The remains of dozens of bodies of Ukrainian service members killed in the battle for the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have been returned to Ukraine and have begun arriving in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government announced on Tuesday.
Many of the dead fighters were members of the Azov regiment, which led the defense of the city for months under relentless Russian attack from ground, sea and air until their surrender in May.
Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Territories over the weekend announced the first officially confirmed exchange of war dead since the conflict began. It said the two sides had exchanged a total of 320 bodies, each getting back 160 sets of remains. It gave no details on where the bodies were recovered from.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian government, citing the Association of Families of Defenders of Azovstal, said that about a third of the bodies turned over by Russia were of members of the Azov regiment. Forensic experts are examining the bodies and conducting DNA analysis in an effort to determine their identities.
With Mariupol fully under Russian control, it is not clear whether all bodies have been recovered from the plant.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking to journalists in Kyiv on Monday, said that Russia was holding more than 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers from the steel plant as prisoners of war. While little is known about their condition, he said Ukraine’s first objective regarding the soldiers had been achieved: They were able to leave the plant with their lives.
“Today there is the second part — to bring them home alive,” he said.