A British man fighting with the Ukrainian marines who was forced to surrender to Russian troops in Mariupol this week told friends he fears being used as “bullshit propaganda” by Moscow.
Aiden Aslin, 28, revealed on Monday night he was forced to surrender to Russian soldiers after 48 days fighting in the besieged, heavily-shelled city. His unit was surrounded and they had run out of food, fuel, water and ammunition.
Mariupol has been destroyed by Russian bombs. PHOTO: ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images
Aslin’s friend, Brennan Phillips, 36, who he met in the fight against ISIS in Syria, was one of the last people to speak to him.
“On Monday at 9.30PM he reached out to me,” Phillips told VICE World News on Thursday. “That was the point there was nothing they could do… and an agreement was made to surrender.”
Days after he went missing, a photograph of Aslin with an injury to his forehead was shared by a Twitter account his friends run, after being shared by a pro-Kremlin account.
Aslin, a former care worker from Newark, Nottinghamshire, told Phillips before surrendering that he hoped to be part of a prisoner exchange, but feared being wheeled out on Russian television as a propaganda tool.
“He expressed the assumption that he was going to be used for ‘bullshit propaganda,’ in his words.”
Aiden Aslin. PHOTO: Facebook
Russia has been running an energetic propaganda campaign on its news TV channels, having banned any independent media that won’t stick to the script issued by Moscow. There was unease after a woman who was rescued from a shelled maternity hospital in Mariupol was featured in a Russian state television interview to create uncertainty about the attack.
Phillips, who was in regular contact with Aslin while he was fighting, fears even more that his friend will be tortured in detention. Russia does not recognise foreign fighters as legitimate soldiers, and says they are mercenaries.
“He’s not a mercenary, he never has been. He has never been in Azov [a far-right battalion]. He has no sympathy for Nazism and fascism.”
He adds, “One has to be concerned about his treatment and safety with the Russians, and even more the Chechens, who are notorious human rights violators and famous for brutality against everyone they come across,” says Phillips, who remembers the Chechens in ISIS command.
“They are notoriously brutal, notoriously violent, notoriously merciless. My concern is great when it comes to that.”
Phillips, a combat medic who previously served in Iraq with the US Army, met Aslin in Syria in the fight against ISIS in 2016. “Immediately my impression of him was that he was a kind and humble guy, with a heart of gold… He tended to civilians while he was there and he had a zeal to help people.”
Aslin, who fought with Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, was “in sound mind, good spirits, in good health, uninjured,” when he was captured, Phillips said. “He and the rest of the people he was with knew they were surrendering, had thought about it for some time.”
Aslin’s mother, Ang Wood, and his Ukrainian fiance, Diana Okovyta, have described him as a “hero” and a “warrior”.
“They’re exhausted, they’re stressed, and they need people’s support,” says Phillips. “I hope their communities will rally behind them.”
Update: After publication, the photographed of Aslin emerged on social media. The story has been amended to include this.