Commanders of the Azovstal defense, including Denys Prokopenko, the head of the Azov regiment at then-besieged Azovstal steel plant, his deputy Svyatoslav Palamar and marine commander Serhiy Volynsky, were among the 215 people released from Russian captivity in a massive prisoner exchange on Sept. 21. The five top commanders were delivered to Ankara in Turkey, where they spoke via teleconference with President Volodymyr Zelensky. They were escorted by Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry Kyrylo Budanov.
In spring, Ukrainian soldiers from Azov and other regiments withstood a brutal Russian siege as they were holding Azovstal, a large steel plant and the last Ukrainian stronghold in now Russian-occupied Mariupol. During the siege, the three commanders became the faces of the resistance, and communicated with the outside world daily to seek help.
Azov regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, along with four other Azovstal defenders, speaks to President Volodymyr Zelensky via teleconference from Ankara, Turkey, after being released from Russian captivity in a prisoner exchange on Sept. 21. (Courtesy)
Other known Azovstal defenders were freed as well, including Dmytro Kozatsky, nicknamed Orest, who took widely shared photos from Azovstal.