European leaders urged Vladimir Putin to release Azov prisoners amid reports that they have been tortured with ‘special cruelty’

European leaders urged Vladimir Putin to release Azov prisoners amid reports that they have been tortured with ‘special cruelty’

Following accusations that Azov detainees were tortured with’special savagery,’ European leaders have asked Vladimir Putin to release them.

Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart Olaf Scholz urged the safe return of 2,500 Azov fighters.

They also demanded an end to the blockade of Odesa and direct discussions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as details of the 80-minute call emerged on Saturday.

Ukrainian Azov Battalion forces do their best to stay warm inside the steelworks (image May 7)

It comes as Ukrainian forces endured heavy artillery barrages yesterday while holding off Russian efforts to capture the small city of Severodonetsk in the east. The shelling was so intense that it was not possible to assess casualties and damage, Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Dozens of buildings have been destroyed in the past few days. ‘The situation has extremely escalated,’ Mr Gaidai said.

The calls by European leaders come as Ukrainian soldiers returned in prisoner swaps with Russia said the brave defenders of Mariupol had been singled out as having endured especially brutal treatment.

A report compiled from interviews with the prisoners said the Azov fighters had been beaten, tortured with pliers, electrocuted and strangled. Other Ukrainian soldiers have allegedly been injected with unknown drugs, humiliated and forced to record confessions in which they sing Russia’s national anthem and plead forgiveness.

Footage has also emerged of some of the defenders of the steelworks being asked why they ‘indoctrinated’ the local population.

Yesterday Mr Putin was accused by experts of inflicting ‘unspeakable suffering’ on Ukrainians in the east and ‘demanding horrible sacrifices’ of his own people. He has ordered his forces to focus their firepower on seizing Severodonetsk where Ukraine is suffering ‘serious losses’. But the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think-tank said the capture of the city ‘does not merit the cost’ as it is strategically insignificant.

It said Moscow is ‘recklessly spending its fighting power’ trying to take the city. Despite the onslaught, it is yet to fall and Ukraine’s defence is costing Moscow. In a further boost for Kyiv, the ISW also suggested that when the battle for Severodonetsk ends – no matter who wins – Russia’s offensive will have likely peaked.

It came as Mr Zelensky said he expects ‘good news’ about the provision of long-range missile systems from the West this week, aiding his fight against Russia.