As It Happens

British man's friends and family say he was captured by Russians in Ukraine

A British man who was fighting in Ukraine appears to have been captured by the Russians, and his friends and family are pleading for his safe return.

Aiden Aslin told his loved ones he was going to surrender on Tuesday. They haven't heard from him since

Aiden Aslin, a British man fighting in the Ukrainian military in Mariupol, called his mother and a friend to say he and his comrades were out of food, ammunition and other supplies and would surrender early Tuesday, April 14. They haven't heard from him since. (Aiden Aslin/Facebook)

Warning: The photo gallery in this story contains graphic images.

Story Transcript

Aiden Aslin called his friend from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Tuesday to tell him his battalion was about to surrender to Russians. 

"Obviously, I responded, 'No, no, no, no, no, you can't. You can't do that. You have to find a way out," Brennan Phillips of Tennessee told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins. 

But it was no use. Aslin, a British citizen who has served in the Ukrainian marines since 2018, told his friend that there was no way out of the city. They were out of ammunition, with no resupply in sight. They didn't have any food or water. 

"There was no way for them to escape and no way for them to resist," Phillips said. "So I told him that I loved him."

Shortly after that, Aslin spoke to his family in the U.K. and told them the same thing, says his brother Nathan Wood. 

Aslin's friends and family haven't heard from him since, and video footage from Russian state television appears to show him in Russian captivity.

How a British citizen ended up in Mariupol 

Aslin, originally from Newark, England, was a member of the 36th Marine Brigade, his family says. 

Wood said his brother has a home in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv and a Ukrainian fiancée.

"Even though he is a British citizen, Ukraine is his home," Wood said. "It's something he believed in fighting for, as well as fighting for the people who perhaps can't fight for themselves."

A view shows a street damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on April 14, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

He moved to the country after a stint as a volunteer foreign fighter in Syria. That's where he met Phillips, who headed up a group of volunteer combat medics helping Kurdish armed forces in the fight against ISIS.

"Aiden was one of the people that I trained, but Aiden was also a friend outside of that. He was more than a colleague," Phillips said. "The first thing that strikes you about Aiden is his kindness, his generosity, [and his] huge heart."

He said it was that huge heart that drew him to Syria in the first place, and then later to Ukraine. 

"That's who he is. He took that same compassion for people and indignation over the West's inaction on atrocities being committed by ISIS, and served in Syria," Phillips said. 

"He didn't want to join the British military and just sit in Britain and not do anything. And so he had an option, an opportunity, to become a marine. And that's what he did."

1,036 Ukraine marines surrendered, says Russia

Ukraine's 36th Marine Brigade posted Monday on Facebook that it was under heavy fire and quickly running out of supplies after 37 days of defending Mariupol.

On Wednesday, Russia's defence ministry said 1,026 soldiers from the battalion, including 162 officers, had surrendered in the city, and that Ukraine's main Sea of Azov port was fully under its control. 

Ukraine's general staff said Russian forces were attacking the port, but a defence ministry spokesman said he had no information about any surrender.

A look inside the besieged city of Mariupol:

Phillips said his friend was worried that he'd be singled out as a Westerner and used for propaganda by the Russians. And that's exactly what Phillips believes has happened. 

Photos have emerged on social media that appear to show Aslin handcuffed and badly bruised with a gash on his forehead and a swollen eye. Russian state television aired footage that appeared to show Aslin, with the same swollen eye and cut, being questioned in Russian about his role in the fighting.

CBC cannot verify the authenticity of the video or the photographs. Wood says he has seen the images, and believes them to be his brother. 

"It was incredibly difficult [to see]," he said. "As soon as we saw it, it was just absolutely horrible."

His mother Ang Wood told the BBC: "I believe it is him in the photographs."

Asking the U.K. government for help

Aslin's brother says his family has been in touch with the U.K. government and their local MP in the hopes their government can negotiate for his release.

The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office declined to comment on the case.

The U.K. strongly advises its citizens against travelling to Ukraine for any reason, citing its difficulty to obtain information or offer consular services amid the war with Russia. It has called on Russia to treat any prisoners of war humanely.

"What happens after, I'm not so sure," Wood said. "But I'd hope that they work toward his safe return and treatment and that the situation is resolved as soon as possible."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Brennan Phillips produced by Sarah Jackson.

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