Fear for the 59-year-old British ex-soldier who disappears after being captured by Putin’s troops after the steel mill’s surrender

A British ex-soldier fighting in Ukraine has disappeared after being captured after the fall of the Azovstal steelworks fortress.

Fears are growing for combat medic John Harding – believed to be a former paratrooper and Falklands veteran – who was last seen evacuating with his comrades in Mariupol last month and has not been seen since.

Combat medic John Harding, 59, was last seen exiting the Azovstal industrial complex in May

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Combat medic John Harding, 59, was last seen exiting the Azovstal industrial complex in MayPhoto credit: Reuters
Harding was hiding at the factory with hundreds of other Ukrainian soldiers

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Harding was hiding at the factory with hundreds of other Ukrainian soldiersPhoto credit: Reuters

Two other Brits, Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were also arrested at the steel mill and sentenced to death by a kangaroo court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

A fourth Briton, father of four, Andrew Hill, 35, is said to be facing the same death sentence.

Harding, 59, reportedly joined the Ukrainian military five years ago after fighting the Islamic State in Syria, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Nicknamed “Pops” by his comrades, he was seen in TV footage exiting the industrial complex after an 82-day Russian bombardment.

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Now friends and former colleagues fear the brave soldier was killed by the Separatists as he has not been seen since.

Other captured British and American POWs were led in front of Russian television cameras for propaganda purposes.

Alex Grant, an American volunteer with the Ukrainian Armed Forces who has known Harding since 2018, said there are growing concerns about Harding’s fate.

“One can only draw two conclusions: either he was taken to a secret concentration camp, or they murdered him shortly after the surrender,” he said.

Grant described the veteran soldier as “an adventurer and a good medic,” adding that Harding “always wanted to help and serve the people of Ukraine.”

“He lasted as long as he could in Mariupol and that’s why he’s a hero.”

In March and April, Harding wrote on social media about life under the Russian attack in Mariupol.

“I don’t know how close they are, but they don’t seem to be short of ammo,” he shared in a post.

After a 12-hour bombardment, he wrote: “I wonder how much of the above-ground structure is still intact.

“I haven’t been on the ground for three or maybe four days. I imagine it’s pretty chaotic up there.”

In another post, he said he cut his hair short after three months of growth because “if I’m going to die here, I’m going to die a soldier.”

On May 19, he wrote about trying to flee the industrial plant when hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated by Putin’s troops.

Apparently he was taken to an overcrowded prison notorious for its brutality.

Harding served in the British Army for nine years, having enlisted in the British Army at the age of 16.

During his stay in Syria he is said to have told his comrades that he had been a paratrooper in the famous “Yomp” over the Falkland Islands during the 1982 war.

It is understood he returned to the battlefield because he missed the camaraderie of military service and combat duty.

He joined the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in 2015 and became the commander of a tactical medical bis.

A civilian electrical engineer, Harding joined his friends Aslin and Pinner in Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists in Donbass in 2017.

Last night, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Azov regiment confirmed that Harding was a member of his second battalion’s medical unit that was hiding in Azovstal.

It comes as Ukraine said it was ready to exchange Russian prisoners of war to secure the release of hero fighters Aslin and Pinner.

The Britons – both serving members of the Ukrainian army – have been sentenced to death after reportedly being duped into admitting they were terrorists.

They were captured after running out of ammunition during the brutal Siege of Mariupol.

They were convicted as illegal mercenaries in a mock trial by Putin’s deputies in the occupied Donetsk region.

Ukraine says they are soldiers who should be protected as prisoners of war under international law.

And last night, the country’s ambassador to Britain, Vadym Prystaiko, suggested they be released under a prisoner swap deal with Russia.

In return, Putin could demand the release of a number of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politicians imprisoned on alleged espionage charges.

“It will be a swap,” Mr Prystaiko told BBC News.

“The important question is what the price will be, because the Russians talked about exchanging some Ukrainian MPs for them, especially those who I now understand have worked for them all these years.”

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The ambassador added that Aiden and Shaun “have contracts with the armed forces, they previously lived in Ukraine, so they are legally there.”

He said: “We expect Russians to remember that these are our people and should be treated as prisoners of war – just as we treat Russians in our captivity.”

Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, pictured fighting in Ukraine, were captured at the Siege of Mariupol

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Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, pictured fighting in Ukraine, were captured at the Siege of MariupolPhoto credit: Sky News
Aiden and Shaun were sentenced to death in a sham trial

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Aiden and Shaun were sentenced to death in a sham trialPhoto credit: Avalon.red

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5592612/brit-ex-soldier-vanishes-putins-troops-take-steel-plant/ Fear for the 59-year-old British ex-soldier who disappears after being captured by Putin’s troops after the steel mill’s surrender

DevanCole

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