Bodies of 210 Mariupol defenders arrive in Kyiv in exchange of war dead

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June 7 (UPI) — The bodies of 210 Ukrainian soldiers who defended the eastern city of Mariupol were transported to Kyiv on Tuesday as part of an exchange of the war dead with Russia, Ukrainian officials announced.

Ukraine‘s Ministry of Defense Main Intelligence Directorate said most of the bodies repatriated to Kyiv were the “heroic defenders of Azovstal,” a large steel factory in Mariupol. Ukrainian troops and civilians holed up in the plant in the final days of the battle over the city.

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Russian forces attacked the key southern port city for weeks before gaining full control.

“The process of returning bodies of fallen defenders of Mariupol is ongoing,” the ministry said in a statement according to CNN.

Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Territories confirmed over the weekend that Russia and Ukraine each exchanged the remains of 160 people. Of those returned, about one-third were members of the Azov regiment, which defended the steel plant.

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The New York Times reported it’s unclear whether all the Ukrainian bodies have been removed from the plant, which is now under Russian control.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was holding more than 2,500 Ukrainians from the plant as prisoners of war.

Former Mariupol leaders said a lack of clean water and decaying corpses in the streets are causing an immediate health crisis for the thousands who remain there.

The former leaders said that the summer heat has accelerated the decomposition of “thousands of corpses under the rubble.” Most buildings in Mariupol have been destroyed.

The Kremlin has banned international relief organizations from working in Mariupol and Russian officials have denied that there’s a threat of any health crisis in the city.

“There is no outbreak of cholera either in Mariupol or in other cities of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” Russian-appointed Donetsk Minister Alexander Oprishchenko said, according to The New York Times.

Russian forces made advances Tuesday in the battle for the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, with airstrikes and artillery making some headway against stubborn Ukrainian resistance.

Since Moscow captured most of the city days ago, Ukrainian forces have mounted a counterattack that’s slowed Russian troops and forced them to commit additional resources and firepower.

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Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk Region Military Administration, accused Russia of using “sabotage and reconnaissance groups” in the village of Bilohorivka, just west of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The city sits on high ground next to the Siverskyi Donets River where Ukrainian troops successfully repelled a Russian assault in May.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Russia appears to be moving toward cutting off Severodonetsk from the north and south.

“Russia made gains on the southern, Popasna axis through May but its progress in the area has stalled over the last week,” the ministry said in a tweet. “Reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggest Russia is preparing to make a renewed effort on the northern axis.

“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk oblast.”

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian winemaker whose vineyard is on the edge of territory captured by Russia has won gold in the prestigious Decanter World Wines awards. It is the first time a Ukrainian wine won the title.

“I can’t say we were surprised that we won because our wine is really, really good,” Svitlana Tsybak, CEO of Beykush winery and president of the Ukrainian association of craft winemakers, said according to The Guardian.

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A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo