Putin’s forces captured Ukrainian Aiden Aslin and British national Shaun Pinner after they defended the Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the Marines of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Aslin looked battered and bruised during an appearance on state television where he echoed Russian propaganda, possibly against his will. On the other hand, Pinner looked relatively unscathed, aside from being fatigued and pale and showing some discoloration around the nose and under his eyes.
Aslin, 28 years old (some say 27), originally came from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, England. Unlike most volunteer fighters in Ukraine, he was no newcomer in the country. He had been with the Ukrainian military as a marine since 2018 and was engaged to a Ukrainian national. Aslin has been reported to be residing in Ukraine for several years and hold a Ukrainian citizenship.
He was part of the defending force in the besieged city of Mariupol, which had been heavily surrounded by Russian forces for the past weeks after suffering from numerous attacks on civilians. Unfortunately, according to reports, their unit was forced to surrender due to low ammunition and supplies.
Pinner, on the other hand, is a 48-year-old former British soldier from Bedfordshire who had also been captured by the Russians while fighting in Mariupol. He was reportedly part of the 36th Marine Brigade. Pinner is also not a newcomer to Ukraine as he moved to the country four years ago as he married a Ukrainian. They lived together in Donbas for four years.
“Hi, I’m Shaun Pinner. I am a citizen of the UK. I was captured in Mariupol. I am part of the 36 Brigade First Battalion Ukrainian Marines,” he said in a Russian propaganda video. “I was fighting in Mariupol for five to six weeks, and now I’m in Donetsk People’s Republic.”
Note that he acknowledges the so-called People’s Republics in his video. The two British fighters were reportedly friends who had fought together since their time in Syria.
Sean Pinner Ex 🇬🇧 Army, Royal Anglian Regt 1st Battalion (Vikings)
As a former 🇬🇧 Royal Anglian 2nd Btn (Poacher) #DesertRats, I’m glad he’s safe, passport found weeks ago, been living in Ukraine for years with his UKR wife, joined UKR marines 2018/19 Mariupol was his home pic.twitter.com/gCfe0lFCpz
— TritonTaranis 🇬🇧🇺🇦 (@TritonTaranis82) April 16, 2022
British #Ukraine Marine Aiden Aslin (AKA Cossack Gundî / Johnny) has had to surrender with his unit to Russian forces in Mariupol. They fought like hell for 48 days and have now run out of food and ammunition due to #Russia’s siege and destruction of the city. pic.twitter.com/RPYbXimRSi
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) April 12, 2022
“It’s been 48 days, we tried our best to defend Mariupol, but we have no choice but to surrender to Russian forces. We have no food and no ammunition. It’s been a pleasure, everyone. I hope this war ends soon,” Aslin tweeted under the name Cossackgundi. It was reported that his friends were the ones using his account. It is unknown whether Aslin was forced to relay this message to his friends under the influence of his Russian captors.
Mariupol, located at the strategic Sea of Azov, has been under siege since March. The Ukrainian defense stood strong, managing to hold a few key territories in the area. However, as the Russian advance shifts its focus from capturing Kyiv to securing the entirety of Donbas, the Ukrainian Forces in Mariupol are expected to fall to the advancing Russian forces unless they are resupplied or reinforced.
“We’re just waiting for the command to lay down our arms & head towards the Russian soldiers” – the final video message, after fighting til the bitter end, British man Aiden Aslin who is in the Ukraine military, said “we had no choice left” 🇺🇦
On @BBCNews 🎥 @bhaskersolanki pic.twitter.com/eombrJGNOh
— Emma Vardy (@EmmaVardyTV) April 15, 2022
“We were bombed from airplanes and shot at by artillery and tanks. We have been doing everything possible and impossible. But any resource has the potential to run out,” wrote the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade in a Facebook post.
Aslin’s mother, Angela Wood, said that her son and his unit “put up one hell of a fight,” adding that his son called him before the surrender saying “they had no weapons left.”
Putting Words in Their Mouths
After his capture, Aslin appeared in an interview on Russian state television with noticeable wounds on his face. In the interview, Aslin appears to be parroting Russian propaganda. Rossiya 1 presenter Andrey Rudenko characterized Aslin to be a “mercenary” who fought on the side of the Ukrainian “Nazis.” The reality is that Aslin was a Marine in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. A “Mercenary” is a foreign national who agrees to fight for a foreign power but does not serve in the military of that power in uniform. Aslin is a Ukrainian citizen and served several years as a uniformed member of Ukraine’s regular armed forces.
In the video of Aslin, he appears to have injuries that he did not have in a video released shortly before his surrender to Russian forces, in particular, an unclosed 2-inch gash to his forehead that appears to be a couple of days old. In watching the video of his statement it is apparent that he is reading a prepared statement almost verbatim that used broken English, this is telling because Aslin is a native speaker of the language who was born and raised in the UK. For an example of his broken English as a sign that his statement is not voluntary,
“I fought in beginning, uhhh, Ukraine was good side, uhhh…But then eventually I see they don’t make right decisions that would end war”
“From the first day when we arrived in Mariupol, I said that we should leave because, as I said before, Donbas is recognized as independent, Luhansk also,” said Aslin, according to Izvestia, a Russian newspaper.
Izvestia claims that Aslin urged Ukraine to recognize Moscow’s claim to the annexed territory of Crimea, which Putin forcibly seized in 2014. Aslin also allegedly called his fellow Ukrainian fighters “criminals.”
Aslin’s family and close friends suspect that he spoke under duress and was forced to parrot propaganda. His Twitter account, which was being handled by his friend, suggested that his statements were part of a “victory lap” for Russian state media.
“So far, they’re going through what we expected with recorded statements. Russian media are taking a victory lap. Perfectly happy for them to do that if it keeps my friend alive.” wrote the tweet, which included a photo of the battered Aslin.
Aslin’s Family and the Battle with Fears
Back at home, Aslin’s family is worried about the captured fighter. They say that the photos indicate that he is in bad shape and has been treated poorly by the Russians.
Aslin’s younger brother, Nathan, tearfully told the DailyMail that it was “so shocking for our family to see Aiden in that state.” Nathan noted how his brother looked awful, “absolutely exhausted,” and with his face pale white. Despite Aslin’s state, Nathan remains grateful to see his brother alive.
“However horrible it is to see him in such a state, it does show that he is still alive, and that is giving us as a family some slight relief.”
His mother believes that it was indeed Aslin shown in the photos from Russian media. She also called for the proper treatment of her son.
“I believe it is him in the photographs. We just want him to be treated according to the Geneva Conventions,” she said. “Aiden is a serving member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and as such is a prisoner of war and must be treated with humanity,” his mother added.
Human rights groups have warned Moscow and Kyiv that using prisoners of war for propaganda violates international humanitarian law. However, such mandates are difficult to enforce in a warzone.
Aslin’s family now hopes for a prisoner exchange to get him back. According to them, they have already contacted the United Kingdom Foreign Office. Until then, they can only pray that the British fighter comes back home in one piece, alive.
“F*ing pukes have worked him over too, by the looks of it. We’re going to keep in the public eye every day until he’s exchanged,” wrote Aslin’s friend on the Cossackgundi Twitter page.
Calls for an Exchange with Medvedchuk
After Pinner and Aslin were captured, Pinner appeared again on a short video begging for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exchange him with pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who was captured last week by Russian forces. Medvedchuk is a known Putin ally and is known in Ukraine as a traitor. He is actually wanted for charges of treason and attempting to plunder public assets in Crimea.
Quite ironically, the Kremlin immediately shot down an earlier prisoner exchange involving Medvedchuk. Dmitry Peskov stated that Medvedchuk is “not a citizen of Russia” and had nothing to do with Putin’s “special military operation.”
“He is a foreign political figure,” Peskov said. “We don’t know at all whether he himself wants some kind of participation on the part of Russia in resolving this libelous situation against him.”
Meanwhile, Russian media shows a footage of British POW Sean Pinner who calls UK PM Johnson to exchange him and his fellow fighter Aiden Eslin for Medvedchuk pic.twitter.com/KwLWZk9WyE
— Guy Elster (@guyelster) April 18, 2022
In the video, Pinner directly addressed British Prime Ministry Boris Johnson and asked him to give Medvedchuk in exchange for himself and Aslin.
“I would really appreciate your help in this matter and pushing this agenda. Myself, I’ve been treated well and… fully understand the situation that I am in. We’ve been fed, watered, and that’s all I can really say. But I beg on my behalf and Aiden Aslin’s behalf to help us in an exchange for Mr. Medvedchuk,” he said calmly.
In the video of Aslin, he appears to have injuries that he did not have in a video released shortly before his surrender to Russian forces, in particular, an unclosed 2-inch gash to his forehead that appears to be a couple of days old. In watching the video of his statement it is apparent that he is reading a prepared statement almost verbatim that used broken English, this is telling because Aslin is a native speaker of the English language who was born and raised in the UK. For an example of him using halted and broken English as a sign that his statement is not voluntary,
“I fought in beginning, umm, Ukraine was good side, umm…But then eventually I see they don’t make right decisions that would end war”
He intentionally leaves the word “the” out of this sentence.
In this second video of Aslin, you can see that his bangs have been used to conceal the injury to his forehead and he is being forced to wear a T-shirt bearing the markings of the Azov Regiment whose Neo-Nazi leanings the Russians have made the casus belli for the entire war. In Azov Regiment is believed to consist of about 1,000 fighters and operated in the contested Donbas region of Ukraine. As a political movement, they are a fringe party that has no power in the Zelensky government. In the last election, their candidates garnered just 2% of the national vote. Its original leader, Belisky left the organization to begin a political party. Their ideology is not a copy of the German Nationalist Socialism of Adolph Hitler but describes itself as far more nationalist and far less socialist than the German Nazis.
Aslin was never in the irregular militia of the Azov Regiment but was a regular serving ranker in the Ukrainian Marines.
The Geneva Conventions prohibit the Russians from putting POWs on display for propaganda purposes like this and both sides in the conflict can be legitimately accused of violating these prohibitions on their treatment. In the case of Aslin and Pinner, the convention provisions are of little value as Russia disclaims the prisoners even belong to them but are in the custody of the “Donbas People’s Republic” the Kremlin made puppet regime they created. This ad hoc government which has yet to receive any official recognition from the UN is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention and is therefore not bound by its provisions.