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Troops surrender in Mariupol, Macron disagrees with Biden genocide charge

Russia says more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops have surrendered in Mariupol. As evidence of war crimes mounts, U.S. President Joe Biden accused Russia of genocide but French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned against such an “escalation of rhetoric.”

(CN) — About 1,000 Ukrainian marines have surrendered in Mariupol as the southeastern port city falls under Russian control, according to Russia’s defense ministry. 

The mass surrender was first reported late Tuesday and videos seemed to confirm that many Ukrainian marines had laid down their arms. On Monday, the Ukrainian brigade of marines in Mariupol issued a dire message saying they had run out of ammunition, food and water. Some 1,000 or more Ukrainian fighters, including many members of the far-right Azov Regiment, are still holding out in Mariupol

U.S. President Joe Biden added more fuel to the dangerous tensions between the Kremlin and the West by accusing Russia of committing genocide in Ukraine. On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned against Biden’s use of the term genocide and said Russians and Ukrainians are “brothers.” 

Pressure continues to build on Russia with the Swedish and Finnish governments initiating steps to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union moving to add Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as members. The Kremlin is warning Finland and Sweden to not join NATO. 

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said a decision to apply to join the alliance will be made within weeks. She said “everything had changed” after Russia attacked Ukraine. She spoke at a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.  

Public opinion in both countries has shifted toward favoring NATO membership with Finns expressing much more support since the Ukraine invasion. NATO says it would welcome their applications.   

This week Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov decried their siding with NATO and charged that “the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation.” 

The war in Ukraine entered its 49th day on Wednesday and it is building toward a new bloody phase as both sides prepare for major battles in eastern Ukraine, a region known as the Donbas. Russia is moving troops and equipment toward the Donbas and Ukraine too is trying to build up its forces there, who are in danger of getting encircled. 

Biden made his accusation about genocide as evidence of war crimes continues to mount. Hundreds of bodies of Ukrainians killed in the war are being examined in areas near Kyiv held for more than a month by Russian troops, who are accused of rape, torture, summary executions, looting and indiscriminate shelling of civilian homes and infrastructure. 

With Russian President Vladimir Putin, top officials and Russian state media calling for an end to Ukraine as a state, some experts argue that Russia’s assault on Ukraine and its people does amount to genocide. 

On Tuesday, Biden told reporters that he believes Russia is guilty of genocide. 

“Yes, I called it genocide,” the president told reporters in Iowa shortly before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington. “It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.” 

At an earlier event in Menlo, Iowa, where he talked about spiking energy prices resulting from the war, Biden had implied that he thought Putin was carrying out genocide against Ukraine, but offered no details. 

On Wednesday, Macron said in an interview with France 2 that he disagreed with Biden, though he said war crimes were being committed. 

“I am wary of such terms today because these two peoples [Russians and Ukrainians] are brothers,” Macron said. “I want to continue to try as hard as I can to stop this war and restore peace. I am not sure that the escalation of rhetoric serves this cause.”  

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Ukrainian soldiers walk in a building previously used by Russian soldiers as a temporary base in Malaya Rohan, Ukraine, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Macron said he will continue trying to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin to negotiate an end to the war. Macron was at the forefront of efforts before the invasion to get the sides to resume ceasefire talks to put an end to the years of fighting in the Donbas. War erupted there in 2014 following the overthrow of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.  

On Wednesday, Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, visited Bucha, a town near Kyiv where Russian troops are accused of killing hundreds of civilians.  

“Ukraine is a crime scene. We are here because we have reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court are being committed,” Khan told reporters. “We have to pierce the fog of war to get to the truth. That requires independent, impartial investigation.”  

Ukrainian authorities and locals in Bucha are doing the grisly work of finding and identifying the dead. So far, more than 500 corpses have been found, according to Ukrainian officials. International investigators, including a forensic team with the International Criminal Court and French gendarmes, are on the ground in Ukraine. 

Russia has denied its troops committed atrocities in Bucha and accused Ukraine of “staging” bodies to make it look like war crimes.  

“We have to keep an open mind and we have to follow the evidence,” Khan said. 

While towns outside Kyiv are destroyed and teams work to bury the dead, the capital itself is beginning to be repopulated as thousands of people return. Tram lines and buses are once again running, many businesses have reopened and power and other services have been largely restored.  

Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said about two-thirds of the capital’s population of 3 million have returned home, despite recommendations for them not to because of the ongoing threat of rocket fire.  

While the situation in Kyiv has begun to return to a kind of state of normalcy, war continues to rage in eastern and southern Ukraine.  

In Mariupol, there are scenes of absolute devastation and the sound of gunfire and artillery has been constant for weeks. Reports from the city have been very sparse and increasingly pro-Russian journalists have become a source of on-the-ground information.

Patrick Lancaster, an American journalist aligned with Russian and pro-Russian forces, has provided video reports from the pulverized city showing shell-shocked and hungry civilians who talk about burying their loved ones, losing homes, sheltering for weeks in basements and suffering at the hands of Ukrainian forces.   

The number of dead in Mariupol remains unclear, though Ukrainian officials estimate more than 20,000 people have been killed in the fighting.  

On Wednesday, the Russian defense ministry said 1,026 Ukrainian marines with the 36th Brigade surrendered. They had taken refuge in a large metallurgical plant called Ilyich. Russia said 162 officers and 47 female soldiers were among those captured. It said 156 were wounded. Russian sources also said at least two Brits were among the prisoners.   

Late Tuesday, as news of the mass surrender came out, Ukraine showed photographs of a captured Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and close ally to Putin who led the main opposition party, the Opposition Platform-For Life. After Russia invaded, his party, along with others deemed to be pro-Russian, were banned by Zelenskyy.  

Medvedchuk was shown in handcuffs and dressed in Ukrainian military fatigues. Before the Ukraine invasion, Medvedchuk was under house arrest and accused of treason but he allegedly escaped his house a few days after Russia invaded on Feb. 24.  

Ukraine’s intelligence service said it had captured him in a difficult operation, a claim that was doubted by Russian officials who speculated that he may have been in Ukrainian detention all along. Zelenskyy said he would offer Medvedchuk to Russia in exchange for Ukrainian prisoners, but that proposal was rejected.  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union. 

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