Western propaganda continues to present the defenders of Mariupol, particularly Azov Battalion as heroic martyrs, but every day it becomes harder to do so. They have been involved in the murder and brutal torture of women and children. The Azov Battalion is a symbol of hell and years of terror for the people of Donbass.
On 30 October 2014, Ganja was detained in Mariupol by five men in military uniform with Azov Battalion chevrons and balaclavas. Already in a car, they beat her with their guns and urinated on her. They took her out of her car, kicked her, and fired a volley of shots over her head. They took her to Mariupol airport, where they carried on torturing her until 8 November. After that, they took her to court and a pre-trial detention centre.
Tatiana was a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine, now outlawed in the country. She took part in protest rallies in Mariupol and the 11 May referendum over the future of the Donetsk region. She was not even aware that she was blacklisted as an “intransigent separatist”.
In March 2019 during a press conference in Moscow, former officer of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) Vasily Prozorov spoke about “The Library”: a secret prison at Mariupol airport, a city controlled by the Azov Battalion. The “Library” contained “books”, the name given to captured DPR militia members and ordinary citizens “suspected of separatism”. They were tortured there. The place had two disconnected refrigerated cells with sealed doors and no furniture. Prozorov showed photographs of nine prisoners from the “Library” – among them were a teenager in a khaki t-shirt and two old men. All of them showed signs of beatings.
Azov survivors also confirmed his declarations to Sputnik
Former “Library” inmate Tatiana Ganja described the prison as a “real hell and place of death”.
On 8 November 2014, Ganja was taken from the airport for investigative actions. She was released following a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Donetsk People’s Republic on 26 December. Since then, she has been living in Donetsk in one of the dormitories for refugees. Azov looted her home in Mariupol.
One day, Elena Blokha, a journalist from Mariupol, also found herself in the “Library’s ‘fridge’”.
“[I was] In a room 3×1.5 metres, lined with white tiles (it looked like a warehouse), there was only one chair, on which a girl with a pale face was sitting. ‘Don’t close the door, please!’, she pleaded, turning to the young man. ‘Be patient. You have to be strong’, he replied in a mockingly affectionate manner and shut the door tightly. It went completely dark and very stuffy. Apparently, there was no ventilation”, Elena described.
They detained Elena Blokha along with her son and placed him in a male cell with several other prisoners.
“Some of them, according to my son, were badly beaten. One could even see broken ribs sticking out, another’s legs were broken… What kind of people they were and what happened to them afterwards, I don’t know, I can only imagine”, Elena said.
Beginning of Azov
In April 2014, after the Maidan triumph and when a street war between supporters and opponents [of Maidan] broke out in all major cities in southeastern Ukraine, the then-Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov announced an Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in Donbass. While the ATO was started in order to form “volunteer battalions”, these battalions later became infamous for their atrocities against civilians and captured militia members.
The Azov Battalion was officially established on 5 May 2014 in the Kharkov neo-Nazi organization Patriots of Ukraine*, the power wing of the Social-National Assembly. The “patriots” opened their first congress in 1999 with a torchlit procession similar to the marches seen in Hitler’s Germany.
The unit of 50-60 fighters possessed several smooth bore rifles and traumatic pistols. The head of the press service, Stepan Baida, described the Azov’s level of equipment at the time as “reinforced troops”.
The Black Corps patches, which directly allude to Reichsführer SS Himmler’s military (“Das Schwarze Korps”, translated from the German as “Black Corps”, the official printed media of the SS), continued to be used by the Azov even after its incorporation into legalranks commanded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
At first, it was a deemed a volunteer battalion in the Special Tasks Patrol Police of Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Then, in October 2014, it became a regiment of the National Guard. As a military unit, Azov was authorized to acquire artillery and tanks.
The presence of Azov became fatal for the residents of Mariupol long before 2022. What happened there in the spring of 2014 was the most important episode of the Donbass conflict.
“In the morning, the Azov men in black uniforms, carrying weapons, [and] in columns of cars drove through [the city]. This show of force was meant to show that Mariupol was and remains a Ukrainian city”, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, recalled in a blog on the website of Ukrainska Pravda.
The Victory Day demonstration on 9 May 2014 ended in clashes near the city police headquarters. According to Kiev’s official information, 13 people were killed, including police officers, National Guard members and Azov Battalion fighters, as well as civilians.
The local police were sympathetic to the Donetsk People’s Republic, but did not take any action against their own superiors or the Ukrainian authorities in general.
A referendum on the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic was scheduled for 11 May 2014. According to Former SBU Lieutenant-Colonel Prozorov, Mariupol police officers received orders to prevent the voting by blocking polling stations and detaining election commission members. However, the majority refused to obey, as they wanted to avoid conflicts with their fellow compatriots, including relatives.
The list of those killed in Mariupol that day include only police officers, security forces and civilians.
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