Russia's Ministry of Defense pledged to return the bodies of 152 dead Ukrainian soldiers it claims were positioned on top of mines in the Azovstal steel plant.
The dead bodies were placed over four mines in a refrigerated van rigged to detonate to tarnish Russia's reputation abroad, Kremlin officials alleged. The soldiers belonged to the Ukrainian Azov battalion, a group long highlighted for having Nazi ties, according to Russia.
"When examining underground facilities of the Azovstal metals factory in Mariupol where the Nazis of the Ukrainian Azov battalion had been hiding before their surrendered, the Russian servicemen found a refrigerated van. The van with its idle refrigerating system stored 152 bodies of dead Ukrainian militants and military personnel," defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, per Russian state media outlet TASS.
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The head of the Azov battalion petitioned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for assistance to move the bodies out of the facility to ensure their families could give them proper burials, Konashenkov said.
But no inquiries came from Kyiv about retrieving the bodies, and an interrogation of captured Azov forces revealed Ukraine ordered the mines to be planted under the dead soldiers, Konashenkov said. There were enough explosives to destroy all the dead bodies in the van in an effort to pin the blame on Russia, he said.
"As the interrogation of captured Azov battalion militants revealed, the mines had been planted on Kyiv’s direct instruction. The provocation was aimed at accusing Russia of deliberately destroying the remains of the bodies and preventing their retrieval for delivery to relatives in order to rescue the political ‘reputation’ of the Kyiv regime," Konashenkov said, adding that Russia plans to return the bodies to Ukraine "in the immediate future."
Russia has not produced evidence for its claims.
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The Azovstal steel plant was one of the last remaining holdouts of Ukrainian resistance in the strategically valuable port city of Mariupol for several weeks. Earlier this month, Russia claimed that the last of the Ukrainian resistance holed up in the plant surrendered, delivering the Kremlin one of its most significant victories since commencing its invasion of Ukraine in February.
Russia has faced a number of setbacks during the course of its invasion efforts. Last week, for example, a Russian court upheld the dismissal of 115 service members in the country's National Guard who allegedly refused to comply with orders to assist with the fighting in Ukraine.