State investigators are looking into allegations that an officer in Ukraine’s elite Marine forces unlawfully ordered hundreds of his subordinates to surrender to Russian forces during the 2022 siege of Mariupol while still having the means to resist.
The officer, against whom formal charges have not yet been filed, commanded the rear area supply services section of the elite 501st Separate Marine Battalion, a May 16 statement by Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) said.
The SBI declaration of suspicion identified the soldier as a senior lieutenant at the time of the surrender and a resident of the city Berdyansk. The SBI public statement did not identify the man by name. Kyiv Post found the soldier’s identity in some Ukrainian news platforms but was unable to confirm those reports.
The SBI is investigating allegations the officer collaborated with Russian forces on Apr. 4 and, under the guise of relocating 277 Ukrainian soldiers to new positions purportedly under Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) control, handed the troops over to the enemy and forced them to surrender, an agency spokesperson said.
“The battalion’s 277 soldiers were ordered to relocate [to a new fighting position], but in reality, they were transported to the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic.’ Because the soldiers were misled, they did not and could not recognize the illegal nature of the order or the order to surrender,” said SBI spokesperson Olha Chykanova in an official video statement.
Kyiv Post approached the SBI public outreach section for possible additional comment on the progress of the investigation. As this article went to press the SBI had not responded.
Family members have recently confirmed to Ukrainian media that at least some of the men in the 501st were hoodwinked into surrendering.
“They all [501st battalion Marines now in Russian captivity] say that they did not know that they would have to surrender. Some were informed that they should go [leave existing positions] as reinforcements, some — that a ‘green corridor’ was being organized,” an Apr. 25 article in the Ukrainian news platform Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIPL) reported a soldier’s wife as saying.
The SBI declaration said that the officer may have offered payment to persons willing to provide him with information about Ukrainian troop locations and movements. SBI investigators claim they have established at least three separate possibly traitorous incidents the suspect was involved in during the period April-June 2022.
Authorities have, the SBI report said, informed the officer he is being investigated on possible treason charges. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. Other persons besides the supply section commander may be investigated for treason in the future, the SBI statement said.
The early April 2022 cessation of resistance by hundreds of Marines in 501st Battalion was widely reported in Russian state media at the time. In some cases, the Kremlin’s official line asserted morale of the Ukrainian Marines had collapsed and that hundreds “had voluntarily surrendered.”
Critics of the AFU’s ultimately unsuccessful defense of the Azov Sea port city Mariupol during the period from Feb. 28 to May 20 have claimed that Ukrainian forces’ ability to hold a perimeter was badly undermined in early April after hundreds of Marines stationed mostly in the north-east of the city surrendered unnecessarily.
Other Ukrainian units led by the Azov National Guard Regiment – but also including detachments from the 501st and other Marine formations caught in the city – fought on for more than a month from positions around Mariupol’s Azovstal steel factory, before capitulating to overwhelming Russia forces.
The SBI statement said that, because an investigation had been opened against the senior Marine officer responsible for troops that wound up in Russian custody during the Mariupol siege, the SBI has closed proceedings against individual members of the 501st Separate Marine Battalion on suspicion of desertion.
According to news reports, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies last year launched an investigation into hundreds of Marines involved in the Apr. 2022 surrender for their possible violation of Article 430 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine “Voluntary Surrender.”
Ukrainian military law effectively bans a soldier’s surrender to the enemy while he or she still has the means to resist. Service personnel convicted of violating Article 430 could face a seven-to-ten-year prison sentence.
Service personnel under suspicion of desertion typically have their pay and benefits put on hold, pending the outcome of the investigation, news reports said. If the investigation dismisses these allegations, then all their stopped pay and benefits are restored, the SBI statement said.
According to military sources, most of 501st Battalion’s personnel remain in captivity.
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