ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine has offered to free Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe evacuation of seriously injured fighters trapped in a steel mill in the ruined city of Mariupol, as kyiv begins to prepare for his first war crimes trial of a captured Russian soldier.
As fighting raged in eastern and southern Ukraine, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Wednesday negotiations were underway to release wounded fighters who are entrenched in the last stronghold of resistance Ukrainian in Mariupol. She said there were different options, but “none of them are ideal”.
Ukraine also closed a pipeline that carries Russian gas to Western Europe, and a Kremlin-installed politician in the southern Kherson region said local officials wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex it.
That’s what at least one resident disputed: “All residents of Kherson are waiting for our troops to arrive as soon as possible,” said a teacher who gave only her first name, Olga, for fear of reprisals. “Nobody wants to live in Russia or join Russia.”
Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said his office charged the Russian sergeant. Vadin Shyshimarin, 21, in the murder of a 62-year-old unarmed civilian who was shot while riding a bicycle in February, four days after the war. Shyshimarin, who served in a tank unit, was accused of shooting through a car window at the man from the village of Chupakhivka in the northeast of the country.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said the soldier faced up to 15 years in prison. She did not say when her trial would begin. Venediktova’s office said it investigated more than 10,700 allegations of war crimes committed by Russian forces and identified more than 600 suspects.
Many atrocities came to light last month after Moscow forces abandoned their bid to capture kyiv and withdrew from the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards littered with bodies in towns like Bucha. Residents recounted murders, arson, rape, torture and mutilation.
Volodymyr Yavorskyy of the Center for Civil Liberties said the Ukrainian human rights group will closely monitor Shyshimarin’s trial to see if it is fair. “It is very difficult to respect all the rules, norms and neutrality of judicial proceedings in times of war,” he said.
Economically, Ukraine has shut down a gas pipeline that carries Russian gas through Ukraine to homes and industries in Western Europe, marking the first time since the start of the war that kyiv has disrupted the flow to the west of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports.
The decision was made, the Ukrainian pipeline operator said, to block Russian gas from flowing into a station in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because enemy forces interfered with the operation of the station and siphoned off the gas.
The immediate effect will likely be limited, in part because Russia can divert gas to another pipeline and because Europe relies on a variety of suppliers. Still, the cut underscored the wider risk to the war gas supply.
In the southern region of Kherson, site of the first major Ukrainian city to fall in the war, a Moscow-appointed leader said local officials wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex the area. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson regional administration, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti: “The city of Kherson is Russia.”
It raised the possibility that the Kremlin is looking to sever another piece of Ukraine as it tries to salvage an invasion gone wrong. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, which borders the Kherson region, after a disputed referendum in 2014, a move denounced as illegal and rejected by most of the international community.
Inside Kherson, people took to the streets to denounce the Russian occupation. Olga, the teacher, said such protests are now impossible because troops in Moscow “abducted activists and citizens simply for wearing Ukrainian colors or ribbons.” She said “people are afraid to speak openly outside their homes” and “everyone is walking fast down the street”.
A Black Sea port of about 300,000 people, Kherson provides Crimea with access to fresh water and is seen as a gateway to wider Russian control over southern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be up to the people of the region to decide whether a call for annexation should be made. He said any attempt to annex territory should be closely assessed by legal experts to ensure it is “absolutely legitimate, as was the case with Crimea”.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted: “Invaders can ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson no matter what puns they play.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian rocket attack targeted an area around Zaporizhzhia, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The southeastern city has been a haven for civilians fleeing the devastated port city of Mariupol.
Russian forces continued to shell the Mariupol steelworks, its defenders said. The Azov regiment said on social media that Russian forces had carried out 38 airstrikes in the past 24 hours on the grounds of the Azovstal steelworks.
The factory housed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a month-long siege.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said Russian forces had blocked all escape routes out of the city. Petro Andriushchenko said there were few habitable buildings and little food or drinking water. He said some remaining residents are cooperating with Russian occupation forces in exchange for food.
Ukraine, meanwhile, was targeting Russian air defenses and supply ships on Snake Island in the Black Sea in a bid to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to extend its control over the coastline, according to the UK Defense Ministry.
Ukraine said it also shot down a cruise missile targeting the Black Sea port city of Odessa.
Elsewhere, the governor of a Russian region near Ukraine said at least one civilian had been killed and six injured by Ukrainian shelling in the village of Solokhi near the border. Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov’s account could not be independently verified, but he said the village would be evacuated.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Kelvin Chan in London and AP global staff contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Elena Becatoros and Jon Gambrell, Associated Press