The surrender of the Nazis in Azovstal has a domino effect on the entire Donbas front.

As more than 2,400 Ukrainian soldiers in Azovstal have surrendered, this mass surrender has a domino effect on the rest of the Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, leading them to lay down their arms as well.

Since 16 May, the gradual surrender of Ukrainian soldiers surrounded at the Azovstal factory in Mariupol continues. A total of 2,439 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered, including the commander of the 36th brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces, Sergei Volynski, nicknamed Volyn, who surrendered today, followed by the second-in-command of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, Sviatoslav Palamar, nicknamed Kalyna, and finally the commander of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, Denis Prokopenko. The surrender of the three commanders marked the liberation of the territory of the Azovstal factory, which is now fully under the control of the Russian army and the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] people’s militia.

The three commanders handed over their weapons to the Russian armed forces and the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] people’s militia, their belongings were searched and they went through the standard procedure like all other Ukrainian soldiers in Azovstal before boarding the buses that took them to the Elenovka penitentiary centre.

The centre was visited by the Red Cross, which was able to verify that the prisoners were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The Ukrainian soldiers confirmed to the Red Cross representatives and a Ukrainian representative that they are treated well, that they are fed three times a day, that the food is good and that they receive care appropriate to their condition. This is very different from the treatment of Russian soldiers captured by the Ukrainian army.

It should also be noted that the profile and condition of the Ukrainian soldiers who left Azovstal to surrender was very different from one day to the next. While on the first day of the surrender the Ukrainian soldiers leaving the factory were emaciated and appeared to be in very poor condition, the next day it was relatively clean and well-fed soldiers who surrendered. The difference was in the unit to which these soldiers belonged. If on the first day it was mainly UAF [Ukrainian regular army] soldiers who surrendered, the next day it was mainly fighters from the Azov regiment.

When inspecting their luggage, Russian and DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] soldiers found a large amount of canned food, suggesting that the Azov fighters had appropriated the food reserves, leaving the other Ukrainian soldiers to starve.

“The food situation was very different in the various Azovstal bunkers,” says Igor Kimakovsky, an adviser to the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] leader who took part in the negotiations. “In some places there were stocks of canned food, fresh water and medicine. And in other places, Ukrainian soldiers received only 150 grams of porridge and a small piece of bacon a day. Water was taken from the central heating pipes”.

If the mass surrender of Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal is still (deliriously) called an “evacuation” by Zelensky and many Western media, it is because the Ukrainian authorities and Western governments actively supporting Ukraine understand that it will have and is already having an effect on the morale of the remaining Ukrainian troops in the Donbas.

For example, on 18 May a video was released of soldiers of the 115th brigade of the UAF [Ukrainian regular army] stationed in Severodonetsk – now almost completely surrounded and already taken over by the Russian army and the LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic] people’s militia – in which the soldiers announced that they were refusing to fight for lack of reinforcements, command and adequate military equipment. It is clear that Ukrainian soldiers refuse to be used as cannon fodder and sent to certain death.

In that video, the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion of the 115th Brigade refer to another video of another battalion of the same brigade also refusing to fight. There are between 8,000 and 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers in the Severodonetsk region. This means a large number of possible surrenders of additional Ukrainian soldiers.

Mass surrenders of Ukrainian soldiers in the LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic] have already begun.

Especially since the abandonment of the men at the front by their commanders seems to have become the norm. Thus, the wives of soldiers of the 103rd Territorial Defence Battalion (Volkssturm in Ukrainian sauce) have discovered that while their husbands are dying at the front, their commander is warmly welcomed in Lvov!

If the surrender of the Ukrainian soldiers of Azovstal has such an effect on the rest of the Ukrainian troops, it is because the fighters of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment (who represented a good third of the soldiers present in the factory basement) are among the most fanatical. If even they surrender, why should conscripts and other Ukrainian soldiers, far less fanatical, go to certain death, without adequate means to defend themselves, while their commanders are safely away from the front? It remains to be seen how big this domino effect will be and whether it will be enough to seriously undermine Ukrainian defences in the Donbas.

Christelle Néant

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