KYIV (Reuters) – As Ukrainian fighters left the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol this week and ended their dramatic last stand against Russia’s siege, Mariia Zimareva tried in vain to spot her husband amid the flood of news pictures being published.
The 19-year-old, who is five months pregnant, learned from her 22-year-old husband’s unit on Wednesday that he was on a list of soldiers who had been taken from the steelworks to the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near the regional capital Donetsk.
Uncertainty now swirls over the fate of the fighters, who Kyiv wants returned in a prisoner swap. Some senior Russian lawmakers have demanded that some of the soldiers be put on trial.
“I was frightened before as well, so nothing really has changed,” Zimareva said in an online interview from the home of her husband’s parents where she has been living – in Znamianka in the central Ukrainian region of Kirovohrad.
“I haven’t had a single day of calm since the first day of the war,” she said.
Her husband, Stanislav Zimarev, a soldier for the National Guard who works in an armoured personnel carrier unit, was deployed to Mariupol, the city devastated by Russia, on Feb. 7 just a few weeks before the invasion began.
Zimareva said he was wounded by a piece of shrapnel in early April that tore into his hip. He was taken to and operated on at a hospital in a bunker in the hulking Azovstal steelworks that went on to become the last redoubt for the city’s fighters.
The couple were last in touch directly on April 20, she said, though he was able to get a message out to her via another fighter a few weeks ago.
She is now banking on her husband and all the fighters being handed over in a prison swap. She dismissed talk in Moscow of trials for the soldiers as propaganda aimed at a domestic audience.
“I think they will swap everyone, even the Azov (fighters). What they’re saying about putting them on trial, I think it’s just Russian propaganda for Russian residents to justify having let them out of there,” she said.
This referred to fighters in Mariupol from the Azov Regiment. Moscow calls the Azov Regiment “Nazis”. The unit, formed in 2014 as a militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, denies being fascist, and Ukraine says it has been reformed from its radical nationalist origins.
Zimareva and her husband are expecting a daughter, she said, but they don’t have a name yet.
“I hope he’ll be back by that time and we can choose one together,” she said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Frances Kerry)