Ukraine: Aiden Aslin ‘is not a mercenary’ says mother
Aiden Aslin, 28, was a combatant with the Ukrainian armed forces when taken prisoner by Moscow. Shortly after, he was sat in front of cameras by his Russian captors and interviewed by Graham William Phillips, a British man who has previously worked for the Kremlin-backed television channel RT and been accused of spreading Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.
During the 45-minute video, Mr Aslin is asked several times if he is speaking under duress, to which he answers no.
His mother, however, assured her son “is being humiliated and used as a tool to spread Russian propaganda”.
Ang Wood, from inside St Mary Magdalene Church in Newark, which she described as “the only place that is like a shelter to me apart from my home”, told of the ordeals Mr Aiden and his fellow servicemen experienced before surrendering in the besieged port city of Mariupol, which is now in ruins.
She told Nottinghamshire Live: “Two weeks ago I got a phone call from him saying ‘I think we are surrendering, we have no ammunition, no food, we have no water’.”
Mr Aslin’s family said he had been a legitimate combatant with the Ukrainian armed forces and was speaking under duress during the interview posted online.
He moved to Ukraine in 2018, where he met “the love of his life” and joined the military shortly after.
He and his partner were due to get married last month.
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Aiden Aslin, from Nottinghamshire, was taken prisoner while serving with the Ukrainian marines
Ms Wood said: “When the war was declared, their wedding plans had to be put back.
“He is a family man and this was supposed to be his last year in the army. He was in the midst of getting his dual citizenship but, because he was called to go to Putin’s war, as I call it, it was never finalised.”
Mr Aslin is being held along with fellow British soldier Shaun Pinner, 48.
They are among some 1,000 Ukrainian troops from the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade who surrendered in Mariupol, according to the Kremlin.
Vadym Boichenko, the mayor of the city, says about 21,000 civilians have been killed in the city.
And on Wednesday, a commander for the Ukrainian marines fighting in the last stronghold said his forces were “maybe facing our last days, if not hours” as he appealed for extraction in a last-plea Facebook post.
Serhiy Volyna from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade said: “The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one.”
While sheltering at the besieged Azovstal factory, he wrote: “We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us.
“We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state.”
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Images of Aslin in handcuffs appeared shortly after he had indicated on his social media accounts, which are controlled by a third party, that he was left with no choice but to surrender.
Of his appearance in the infamous interview, his mother said: “It is horrendous. It is a breach of the Geneva convention.”
She added: “This was a scripted interview, it is absolutely disgusting. Seeing my son handcuffed saying those things that he does not believe in. People are dying, my son is being beaten up and all he cares about is doing his manipulative interviews.
“Aiden is a hero, he is our nation’s hero who fought for Ukraine. He is a human being who fought for other human beings.”
The wider family said in a statement released on Tuesday: “The video of Aiden speaking under duress and having clearly suffered physical injuries is deeply distressing.
“Together with the family of Shaun Pinner, we are in contact with the Foreign Office to ensure the Russian authorities meet their obligations to prisoners of war under international law and, ultimately, to secure the release of Aiden and Sean.”
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The 28-year-old moved to Ukraine in 2018 and was fighting for Mariupol when captured by the Russians
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson, when asked about the fates of British nationals held by Russian forces, said on Tuesday the Government would “provide whatever support we can”.
They added: “We would call on Russia and Putin to treat any prisoners of war properly, in line with all war conventions and laws.”
Asked about attempts to use the captured men for propaganda purposes, the spokesperson said: “We’ve seen Putin’s regime use captured prisoners and soldiers in this way, but we must not be swayed by any attempt to spread disinformation or to distract from who is responsible.”
In an address to Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Aslin’s local MP, Robert Jenrick, said: “The misuse of Aiden Aslin by the Russian government for propaganda purposes, including featuring him in videos clearly filmed under duress, is a disgraceful and flagrant breach of the Geneva convention.
“Russia must desist from this illegal behaviour immediately and treat Aiden appropriately.”
Mr Jenrick also called on online platforms “to take down prisoner of war-related content from their sites”.
He added: “I urge YouTube to remove the grotesque video of Aiden Aslin immediately.
“Aiden’s family and I are working with the Foreign Office to ensure his swift and safe release.”
The Prime Minister responded: “I think everybody will want to urge the Russian state to treat his constituent humanely and compassionately because in my view, although we do not encourage people to, in fact, we actively dissuade people from going to that theatre of conflict, I understand he had been serving in the Ukrainian forces for some time and his situation was very different from that of a mercenary.
“I hope that he is treated with care and compassion and I thoroughly echo the sentiments that my Right Honourable friend expresses about those who broadcast propaganda messages.”