Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there may be more than 2,500 prisoners from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol now detained in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
In a wide-ranging media availability in Kyiv, Zelensky said that regarding the treatment of these prisoners — including the intention to hold a so-called public tribunal — the Russian plans were changing constantly. Officials in the Donetsk People's Republic have spoken of putting some of the Azovstal defenders on trial where they are alleged to have carried out human rights abuses in Ukraine.
Asked whether he thought the prisoners were being tortured, Zelensky said he was convinced that it was not in the interests of the Russian side because they are "public prisoners" whose condition is monitored by the world community.
Zelensky said the first phase of the operation — getting the soldiers out of Azovstal alive — had been achieved.
"Today there is the second part — to bring them home alive," he said.
"We know what can be agreed on with the Russians, we know this price. We know they can’t be trusted," he added.
Turning to the situation in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky said the situation was difficult. The president visited forward positions on Sunday in Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.
"We are holding positions in the Severodonetsk direction. There are more of them [the Russians], they are more powerful, but we have every chance to fight in this direction," Zelensky said.
Asked whether it would be more appropriate to withdraw Ukrainian forces from Severodonetsk to better positions, the Zelensky said that returning to these positions could be more expensive in terms of losses.
"As for Zaporizhzhia, the situation there is the most threatening because part of the region is occupied and the enemy constantly wants to occupy Zaporizhzhia," Zelensky said.
While front lines in Zaporizhzhia have moved little in the last two months, settlements beyond the front lines are shelled almost daily.
Earlier Monday, Zelensky presented awards to media workers and the families of journalists who had been killed since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
Ukraine's president thanked journalists for the work they did.
"You bring the truth and important information — very powerful, important meanings that can be a great advantage for our country in this fight, in which we will definitely win," he said.
More than 30 Ukrainian and foreign media workers have been killed since Russia's invasion began.