I swore I was not going to do a piece on Azovstal — complete distraction from the real news taking place at the front, etc. But after reading this piece by Russian war correspondent Dmitry Steshin, I figured, okay, just this once. Because I am a sucker for a human interest story.
For those who have not been following this subplot within the main story arc, here is the Executive Summary:
After hiding, for weeks, like rats in their underground bunker; and after swearing on the Norse Gods pantheon and the Ghost of Adolph Hitler, that they will die rather than surrender, our Neo-Naughty “heroic defenders” decided to call it quits. Initially there was just supposed to be “evacuation” of the severely wounded. Russian/DPR side promised to take these guys to the hospital, where they would be provided with medical treatment, probably physical therapy, and psychological counseling, to help them get over their PTSD. Then, once word got out that this was a thing, the process started ballooning and getting out of hand. Now even healthy, ambulatory Ukrainian soldiers decided they wanted to take the deal as well. Next thing you know there were up to something like 700 guys or even more, wanting to surrender; and latest estimates say maybe even as many as a thousand. A fleet of buses and luxury coaches had to be chartered to take everybody, because Russians are nicer people than the Japanese in WWII, who just made prisoners walk to their own doom. Now they can take a bus.
But the really hilarious thing is that, at least in the first couple of days, before they got mocked to death on youtube and Twitter, Westie media all decided to spin this mass surrender as an “evacuation“. Which made it sound like the Ukrainian soldiers and neo-Naughties were calling the shots and rescuing their own. As usual, CNN was the most fakey of all the fake news, with deceitful headlines such as “They will be taken to the Ukrainian town of Novoazovsk…” conveniently omitting the fact that Novoazovsk is controlled by Donetsk Peoples Republic, not Ukraine. And much other deceitful headlines and copy. relying on the ignorance of their clickers.
“I laughed my Azov,” wrote one pro-Russian commenter to the CNN nonsense, thus birthing the meme du jour.
First Come The Sappers
Early morning, May 16. Reporter Steshin gets the scoop of a lifetime when he is allowed to hang out with the Russian/DPR soldiers at Azovstal, while they wait apprehensively for the thing to go down. The Ukrainians are set to emerge from the blocked up entrance to an old railroad tunnel connecting to the steel plant. Interminable minutes go by. Then: A white flag pokes out from one of the tunnels. A group of men in camouflage emerge. Accompanying them is a young boy, he looks to be around 15 or 16, his name is Kolya. He says he has been living inside the steel plant for the past month, he found himself a storage bunker, and that became his home. This first group, including Kolya, is there to negotiate the terms of surrender for the others. Despite his youth, Kolya is clearly connected with the Nationalists and will most likely be detained with the others. One can only hope, for his mother’s sake, that she raised him properly, in other words, no tattoos! A single tattoo on the body can make the difference between status of regular POW and accused war criminal. Especially if it’s, like, a big swastika or sun symbol.
Four hours go by, now it’s around 13:00 hours. The word goes out: “They are coming out. Don’t open fire.” And then a group of Ukrainian sappers emerges. With help from the Russian soldiers, they get to work clearing the debris from the access road. Then, showing nerves of steel the sappers calmly clip the wires on the bombs, which are laid out everywhere and hidden in the debris. The entire area is de-mined, quickly and efficiently.
Two hours pass, now it’s 15:00 hours, and the Russians are waiting for the first group of seriously wounded to be brought out.
As the Azovites emerged from their cavern, they looked like moles who had been underground too long, blinking at the sun. Before them, even in this devastated place, spreads lush greenery, as frogs burble happily in the nearby river. Across the street is the restaurant Sarmat, which has been closed since the beginning of the war. One of the Azovites peers at the restaurant wistfully and sighs, “How I could eat some shashlyk…” Turns out that these guys are really hungry. Turns out they had plenty of water, but very little food. This is an important detail because everybody on the internet keeps repeating over and over that the “defenders” had no water. Actually, they had unlimited supplies of water. We’ll talk about this later.
Never Let Them Take Your Smile
At this point we are halfway down in Steshin’s report, and if you scroll down, there is a short video (just under 3 minutes) which illustrates some of this story. You can distinguish the Russian from the Ukrainian soldiers in that the former wear white stickers on their arms and legs; and the latter have blue or green stickers. Steshin shows the sappers doing their thing.
Steshin tries to strike up a conversation with some of the Azovites. They look straight ahead and won’t make eye contact with him. He notes that their gear is and kit is top of the line. They carry the same rifle as their Russian counterparts, the Kalashnikov.
The reporter was expecting dirty and frightened men, but this is not what he sees. They are clean, neat, and do not appear to be scared. More like apprehensive. The mystery of their cleanliness is solved when one of them dishes the secret: All along, they had plenty of water. They call it “technical” water, from endless supplies in the pipes. Technically it’s not supposed to be drinking water, but they would use it to make tea. And they would wash and stay clean. Given that, one wonders why they decided to surrender, but the secret is that they ran out of food a week ago. It was hunger, not thirst, which drove them out of their hole.
Steshin is accompanied by a DPR soldier named Vlad, who hails from Poltava. They have been inseparable for the past 3 months on the road. Vlad was filled with hatred against these Ukrainian Nazis, and wanted revenge. But now something is happening to him: At the sight of the captives, his hatred and anger start to melt away, and he becomes calmer. Steshin philosophizes about the “Russian soul”, and how this effect works: At the sight of a conquered enemy, the Russian rage wilts, then compassion becomes more dominant within the psyche. To be sure, these Nazis will be put on trial for their crimes. But it is not the Russian way to carry out battlefield justice.
Steshin asks one of the Ukrainians: “How many still in there?” The Ukrainian, whose name is Dmytro, gets cagey: “Still quite a few, you’d be surprised…” Steshin offers the guy a chance to speak into the camera and let his loved ones know that he is still alive; but Dmytro politely declines. Not one of the captives wants to give an interview, so Steshin has to respect their choice.
An 18-year old Azovite named Nazar is the only person in the whole group of captives who speaks in pure Ukrainian dialect. He is from Lvov. He overhears Steshin chatting with Vlad and philosophizing, how this all came about. Nazar butts into the conversation and says, in Ukrainian dialect: “People were pitted against people.” Ukrainian Dmytro objects to this: He says he is from Mariupol, and he says that people were getting used to the new life (under Maidan rules). Vlad objects angrily: “I am from Poltava, I had to leave my home in 2014, because I understood that it was impossible to live under the new rules. We all spoke Russian, and they started to forbid the Russian language, they passed a lot of laws…”
Dmytro exhales: “Yeah…” But then quickly collects himself and dives into the political debate: “All the same, these were our internal, Ukrainian affairs. Why did Russia have to stick its nose in?”
Vlad retorts angrily: “You wanted them to just kill us all, with nobody intervening? You have Europe and the U.S. behind you, so we have Russia behind us. Does that seem normal to you? Is it normal to waste your youth fighting in a war?”
Dmytro: “I have also been fighting since 2014. I also wasted my youth in this.”
Vlad [getting curious]: “Really? Whereabouts were you fighting?”
Steshin leaves these two soldiers to their reminiscing, noting that they kept up their conversation for at least an hour.
During that hour the de-mining process continued, there were more mines than you could count. But eventually the route was clear, and it was time to start bringing out the wounded. They brought the first group out on stretchers, and then headed back in for more. Some of the guys on stretchers were in really bad shape: They would not have lasted even one more day.
An Azov officer appears. He reports to the Russian group that the fighting component of the Regiment are still within the factory, and just waiting to see how everything goes on this first day of the process. The soldiers have internet connection so they are avidly following social media and watching everything that goes on. One conclusion they are all reaching is this: The Kiev regime has no use for them any more.
The battle for Mariupol is over!
What Happens Next?
Steshin and Vlad collect their gear and leave the scene. Vlad reveals, surprisingly, “You know. when this war is over, I would be happy to go out with Dmytro and have a drink with him.”
“You forgive them?”
“No. But I like him. We had a lot of things to talk about.”
“What about him do you like?”
“Well, he was the only one of them who didn’t pretend to be a cook. He was honest with me. He is a worthy adversary.”
“But we defeated them.”
“True. But it was a really tough job.”
Comment to my own post, just saw this update , the latest figure of Azov POWs is a truly amazing number of 1730, just since May 16. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense. That’s a lot of big husky Ukrainian guys to feed, house and provide medical services.
I think Zelensky was kinda hoping they would all croak inside Azovsteel, oh well, what can you do…
Pretty good machine translation, it even gets the humour right:
“The myth of the heroic 82-day defense is already in full swing in the Ukrainian media, although in fact, since the end of March, this defense has consisted mainly of attempts by the “Azovites” to break out of the encirclement. First by helicopters, then with the help of Macron and Erdogan. And recently, they have tried to involve in this generally everyone who they just remembered: Israel, the UN, Doctors Without Borders, the Pope and Elon Musk.”
Damn! Once the translate-bots evolve a sense of humor, you won’t need me any more.
I’ll cry myself to sleep, (sob, snif…)
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Nay – the AI translators didn’t evolve to have a sense of humour! i
It’s us humans who interpret the phrases or choice of words as humorous. The English language is simply perfect for this, even when only read by oneself. If spoken – well, then it’s even easier to have everybody in stitches by just raising an eyebrow.
Thanks, yalensis, and special thanks for the translation! I had a look at the original, having to use a machine translator, and couldn’t make had nor tails of most of what had been written.
Interesting that they ran out of food – well, big husky guys do need feeding, even when they just sit around, ‘sheltering’.
I hope we hear if there were really non-Ukrainians in that crowd, who they were and of which nationalities., to confirm or debunk the rumours which have been flying about the interwebz.
(Must remember ‘Laughing my Azov’ … nice one!)
Thanks, colliemum! It warms my cockles that you found my translation better than a machine translation. When the day comes that a soulless AI robot can do a better translation than flesh-and-blood yours truly, well, that’s the day I surrender my humanity. I mean, evacuate my humanity!
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Turning out a bit different from the “Spartans at Thermopylae” theme, eh? But, frankly, that’s a good thing, even if some of them end up facing a noose or a firing squad.
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Turns out the “Spartans at Thermopylae” meme was just Spartan propaganda.
The reality was that the surrounded Spartans got scared like little babies and made a deal with Xerxes.
These were sulky, self-entitled snowflake Spartans.
Xerxes gave them a hot meal and resettled them somewhere, but they had to pretend they were dead.
Not quite – Xerxes got his Azov after at Planai – The hoi-poloi woke from slumber. Sparta was a military cult where surviving warriors would not be looked upon on homecoming, they should rather have died.
Still, in the 300 movie Xerxes looks very like Obama in 2014….
“At the sight of a conquered enemy, the Russian rage wilts, then compassion becomes more dominant within the psyche.” LOL
Is that how it went in Berlin 1945? Doubt it. Pretty sure there was a lot of rape…
I can tell you are not a stupid person. Your writing is much too witty and clever – so many fun little jokes! Not sure why you choose to deal in this propagandistic trash. You are clearly able to identify bias in “Westie” media coverage but you parrot garbage Russian nationalism and Kremlin talking points such as above.
“complete distraction from the real news taking place at the front, etc.”
Yes and I’m sure that is intentional, given how things are going at the front. Gotta claim your “victories” where you can. It only took the second-largest military in the world three months to capture one city. Good job!
Er… translating the words of a Russian reporter is not necessarily the same thing as “parroting”, people can read Steshin’s essay and make up their own minds about his philosophical musings.
Regarding rapes in Berlin in 1945, you state that you are “pretty sure” that there was a lot of them, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact, a lot of that Western rapey propaganda has been debunked. It was actually the American occupiers who did most of the raping of German girls. And not just Germans, but also French and Italian girls. Some undisciplined Russian soldiers did rape, yes, but not nearly as much as advertised in Westie propaganda.
You should read up on the Vietnam War and all the horrendous sexual crimes that the American soldiers did there, in conjunction with their other atrocities against the local population. Like My Lai massacre, for example. And same deal in Iraq and everywhere else the Americans go. Americans are way more undisciplined and vicious than Russians, when it comes to warfare. But in typical American fashion they project their own viciousness onto Russians and call them barbarians.
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WAHT Americans committing atrocities!? Inconceivable! I will pray to the ghosts of George Washington and Colonel Sanders to punish you for slandering our glorious nation!
Ever watched the movie “Platoon”? How about “Little Big Man”? Great films, and ones that don’t shy away from the uglier parts of US history. Funny, the evil and totalitarian American government must have forgotten to censor those movies.
Russians are not any more or less barbaric than people anywhere else. Americans and Russians alike (and many other nations) suffer from similar sorts of national exceptionalism, especially pertaining to WWII. In this instance Putin is capitalizing on that sense of Russian exceptionalism and the proud Russian memory of the “Great Patriotic War” against Nazis (they really did whoop some Nazi ass back then – now not so much) in order to justify this war. So far all he has to show for it is a smoldering ruin of a city. I’m sure you will say that all the destruction is the Ukrainians’ fault (for fighting back of course!).
Anyway, let me know when the Russians have captured Kiev and Kharkov and finished denazifying Ukra… er.. i mean….creating a corridor to Transnistr…..er… i mean…..liberating Donba….er….i mean, maybe just settle for Severodonetsk… I guess we’ll eventually see whose propaganda is less wrong.
Well, my new friend Deez, I’ll have you know that all those rumors about Colonel Sanders and his secret slave markets and torture chambers under his chicken factory… they were all true!
Anyhow, just a couple of points:
(1) I think you missed one of the subtleties of Steshin’s report. Or maybe I didn’t convey it well enough in my translation. I think Steshin was subtly trying to push the idea of humanism and “let’s not go just go at these guys and get revenge.” I’m guessing you have been following the war more from the Ukrainian side than the Russian; if the latter (for example, the videos of Patrick Lancaster) you would know that many people in the Donbass are really furious and want revenge against the Ukrainians. Azov Nazis terrorized the people of Mariupol for 8 long years. During their “heroic defense”, their snipers routinely picked off any civilians who dared to poke their heads out to try to get some food. The hatred between the Azovs and the ordinary (Russian) people of Mariupol is mutual. I am speaking of majorities, of course, not every individual.
The neo-Naughty militias in Donbass engaged in such grotesque war crimes, tortures, rapes, etc. against the Russian-speakers, etc etc. What I am trying to say is that there are many people who would have, at a single word of an instigator, attacked those POWs in a mob and destroyed them, right there on the streets of Mariupol. It took a lot of discipline to hold back and treat them in a civilized manner. And I think this is one the things that Steshin is trying to say: We’re not like that. We’re better than that.” Hence his depiction of the soldier “Vlad” as his anger cools down at the sight of helpless prisoners. And the humanism that is promoted with the story of Vlad and Dmytro, from opposite sides, developing a weird friendship.
(2) Not to mention Russian rage when they saw those videos the Ukrainian Nazis posted of their guys cutting the throats, gouging out the eyes, shooting in the groin Russian POW’s. These images enraged ordinary Russians, you should have seen some of the comments of pro-Russians on social media, calling for literally “eye for an eye” type of revenge. It is within this context that “Kremlin propaganda” seeks to keep everybody calm and remembering basic human values.
(3) I believe that Russians are actually superior to Americans in this regard, and not nearly as barbaric (with exceptions on both sides). You’ll see in my next post (which I will have up in approx an hour) how these Azov POW’s were treated with dignity. They were not shackled or hooded, they were allowed to sit in comfy buses; once at their destination they were given food and medical treatment. Can you imagine Americans treating their prisoners so humanely? In a word: Gitmo.
(4) As for Russian “failures” in this war: I am a very superstitious person. I am obviously rooting for Team Russia, but I don’t want to jinx it by making any predictions about the final outcome. But just one snarky point: You pro-Ukrainian crowd dined out for weeks on the sinking of the Moskva, can’t you (pretty please!) just give the other team a couple of days of happiness to gloat about Mariupol surrender? I mean, until the inevitable Ukrainian counter-offense and crushing victory by NATO.
I mean…. (?)
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Is that how it went in Berlin 1945? Doubt it. Pretty sure there was a lot of rape…
Is that so? funny, I wonder why. As a German expat, I can only speak for myself of course, but after the fall of Berlin as a Russian soldier, I would not have raped.
I would have lined up the remainder of the population of Berlin in front of some remaining walls and summarily mowed them down with machine-gun fire, after what they did to Russia and the rest of the eastern occupied territories by killing some 20 million+ of my fellow unarmed citizens.
Not out of revenge, just to prevent them from breeding again. Call it artificial selection.
Fortunately for the citizens of Berlin, Russians were/are better humans than I.
From Japan , Australia( yesterday) philippines to Africa US soilders rape even i
peace time in countries whom they consider allies.
You surely must be projecting.
Put aside US gender studies for a moment – have you any idea whatsoever what 1100 artillery pieces 24/7 did to Berlin? It has been artillery war since at least Napoleon.
“Gotta claim your “victories” where you can. It only took the second-largest military in the world three months to capture one city. Good job!”
It is of course a lot easier to win against brown-skinned folks with fourth or fifth rated armies and shock and awe than to win with a ratio of 1:1 (maybe even below that) against a defending force with actually some decent training and NATO weaponry…to begin with. It is also quite easy if you give a damn about the civil population and try to protect infrastructure as much as possible instead of just blowing to bits everything from watersuply to the electrical grid, and against an enemy that uses civilians as human shields. (not Russian propaganda but as reported by Western sources and confirmed by extant video)
But of course, you are an expert – another one – who knows what is going on in the field.
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Thank you for this Yalensis
I hope you keep us updated on what happens with these Azov guys.
I want to know who all those helicopters were sent to rescue
Me too! First ones in, last ones out. I’ll keep my ear to the ground.
… foreign operatives, including dozens French, according to rumors, with a range of clues
Thanks for this link, Nicolas, very interesting!
I think Vlad’s feelings of friendship for Dmytro will reverse once (if) he finds out about all the civilians that Dmytro used and abused as human shields and those he tortured and killed.
That’s a sad thought.
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There are surely still people in Azovstal underground. what about all those foreigners that were supposed to be there.
Ah! that is a mystery. Short answer is: I don’t know. But that won’t stop me from speculating in tomorrow’s post, please stay tuned!
Thank you Valensis.
Just one question about this photograph of a Ukrainian sapper defusing a bomb. I notice that this man carries a weapon. the legend reads: “Nazi sapper defuses a bomb. He wears the chevron of the SS Galichina on his armband. The writing on the butt of his rifle reads, in English, “Never let them take your smile.”
How can it be that a surrendering soldier is allowed to carry a rifle?
Are not they supposed to lay down their beapons?
Hey, julien, I was really surprised to see that myself. Reading (and re-reading) Steshin’s account, and watching his video, I convinced myself that the Russian/DPR side did actually allow this first group of Ukrainian sappers to emerge from the tunnel fully armed, and not just side-arms, but carrying their rifles, smaller gun in holster, knives, etc. One imagines that things could have gone really wrong at some point.
Steshin did mention that Russian soldiers and snipers were poised everywhere very trigger-happy in case the Ukrainians was to try something funny. There were tons of Russian soldiers watching them with fingers on triggers. But fortunately everything went as agreed and nobody was hurt.
My best guess: It must have been agreed in advance that, for the sake of their own dignity, the Azov sappers would do their job while fully armed. Probably later, once the real surrender took place, they would have had to surrender their beloved weapons before they boarded the bus.
Truly amazing, I agree. An unbelievable amount of mutual trust, given the circumstances. Even one desperate suicide bomber could have worn an explosive vest and blowed himself up, not to mention placing explosives in their luggage. If this was a Hollywood movie, that is exactly what would have happened. But again, fortunately, nothing like that happened, and everybody just seemed happy to get it over with and get onto the buses.
P.S. This photo from Steshin’s piece shows more clearly that particular sapper (“Never let them take away your smile”), standing next to one of his buddies. Steshin took the photo himself and the caption reads:
“One of the surrendering Nazis wears on his right sleeve the chevron of the Galicia SS Division Galichina. The other [Nazi] wears a stylized emblem of the SS 3rd Tank Division Death Head…”
Skull-Head guy isn’t carrying a machine gun, but he has a side-arm in his holster, probably a semi-automatic pistol. So yeah, these Nazis sappers were allowed to emerge and do their thing while fully armed and all geared up. Must have been something negotiated and agreed upon. Maybe to ensure their safety and dignity while doing the job they agreed to do. Neither one of them looks very happy though. And what’s to be happy about. Although kudos to them for sucking it up and doing a professional job with the de-mining operation.