Russia deploys 'Terminator' tank unit as Putin ramps up Donbas offensive

22 May 2022, 09:45

A Russian Army BMPT ''Terminator'' armoured tank support fighting vehicle
A Russian Army BMPT ''Terminator'' armoured tank support fighting vehicle. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Russia has deployed its only operational BMP-T 'Terminator' tank unit to the Donbas, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

The Terminator vehicles are designed to protect main battle tanks. The MoD said the unit "has likely been deployed to the Sievierodonetsk axis of the Donbas offensive".

With a maximum of 10 of the vehicles deployed, "they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign," the MoD added.

Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, is critical to Russia's objective of capturing all of eastern Ukraine and saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow's troops backed off from Kyiv.

Sievierodonetsk is the main city under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region, which together with the Donetsk region makes up the Donbas.

Governor Serhii Haidai said the only functioning hospital in the city has just three doctors and supplies for 10 days.

Russian shelling on Saturday killed seven civilians and injured 10 more elsewhere in the region, the governor said.

Concern is also mounting over Ukrainian fighters who became Moscow's prisoners at the end of a brutal three-month siege in Mariupol - as a Russian-backed separatist leader vowed they would face tribunals.

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Russia has claimed full control of the Azovstal steel plant, which for weeks was the last hold-out in Mariupol and a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the strategic port city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 residents feared dead.

Its seizure delivers Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began in February.

As the West rallies behind Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced visit and will address the country's parliament on Sunday, his office said.

Poland, which has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war, is a strong supporter of Ukraine's desire to join the European Union.

With Russia blocking Ukraine's sea ports, Poland has become a major gateway for western humanitarian aid and weapons going into Ukraine and has been helping Ukraine get its grain and other agricultural products to world markets.

The Russian defence ministry released video footage of Ukrainian soldiers being detained after announcing that its forces had removed the last hold-outs from the steel plant's miles of underground tunnels.

Family members of the fighters, who came from a variety of military and law enforcement units, have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday that Ukraine "will fight for the return" of every one of them.

Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, claimed that 2,439 people were in custody.

He said on Russian state TV that the figure includes some foreign nationals, though he did not provide further details.

"I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community," Russian state news agency Tass quoted Mr Pushilin as saying.

Convoys of buses, guarded by Russian armoured vehicles, left the plant on Friday.

At least some Ukrainians were taken to a former penal colony, while Russian authorities said others were in hospital.

Among the plant's defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast its invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia's claim of capturing Azovstal, which for weeks remained Mariupol's last hold-out of Ukrainian resistance.