DNIPRO, Ukraine – Under incessant fire from the air and the closure of Russian troops, a group of Ukrainian soldiers entered the the besieged city of Mariupol on Tuesday night he issued a message of desperation, expressing hope that his own forces would come to their rescue and demanding that the world do something to stop the Kremlin’s fierce war.
“We are surrounded; they are warning us of everything they have,” said a Ukrainian soldier who gave his name as Gasim. “Our only plan is for our forces to get through the blockade so we can get out of here.”
Gasim and his comrades contacted a journalist around midnight as Russian forces continued to bombard. a large iron mill from the soviet period with underground bunkers housing thousands of soldiers and civilians.
Although Gasim and the others did not want to confirm that they were in the factory, the Azovstal steel plant, authorities said it was there that the last Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol hid, as Russia’s fight for full control of the city seemed to be entering its final stages.
Soldiers video chat via WhatsApp, offers a rare picture of the battlefield which paralyzed the world. men often some spoke at once and the light from the phone occasionally focused on their faces in total darkness.
They don’t seem to know the attention their fight and they refused to provide basic details about the number of troops and their location, data provided by the authorities in Ukraine.
Those that remain in the underground fort form the last stand of a strategic city who withstood the relentless siege by Russian forces. The trial of the last defenders caught the world’s attention as they suppressed the enemy for several weeks in what was compared to the Battle of the Alamo.
Despite the shortage of ammunition and supplies, the men interviewed said so they kept fighting and that they refused to accept the Kremlin’s requests for surrender. But they recognized that they are running out of time and that it becomes more difficult for them to leave the protection of their shelter because of the intense shooting.
“We are fighting a difficult battle with the enemy, protecting our country and our people and our culture, our right to self -determination,” said another soldier who gave his name as Kostya, though he admitted they had nothing to fight.
“While we were talking to you, they were shooting at us from the air, dropping bombs,” Gasim said. “Tell America to help us.”
After about 15 minutes, the video is broken and further attempts at communicating with men were unsuccessful.
The interviews took place as Russian forces bombed the plant with a powerful machine gun of airstrikes and mortar shells, as well as naval artillery fire from ships in the Sea of Azov.
a great fortress
The Azovstal plant, where the men were likely to take refuge, was like a great fortress, a large industrial complex with thick concrete walls, steel gates and reinforced underground tunnels.
Yan Gagin, who identified himself as a Russian adviser to the Donetsk People’s Republic, a self-proclaimed government in eastern Ukraine backed by the Kremlin, said in a media report that the steelworks were designed to withstand a nuclear war.
The Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Photo: Reuters
“It’s common a city under a city”, he declared, acknowledging that Russia’s campaign to take over the plant was severely hampered by the complex network of passages, rooms and communication systems that connect the plant’s underground levels.
Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats project at the American Enterprise Institute, “I think the Russians they will throw away everything they have to remove that focus, ”but added that doing so can be costly. “You’ll be surprised at how well you survive the big bombs an installation like this“, he said.
A spokesman for Metinvest, the company that owns the factory, explained that the bunkers below was used as shelter of iron workers in 2014, when Russian -backed separatists tried to take Mariupol.
Bombing at the Azovstal plant. Photo: Reuters
“Since the first invasion, we keep the bunkers in good condition Y full of food and water“, said Galina Yatsura, who heads international communications for Metinvest, adding that the shelters can hold up to 4,000 people and they have enough food and water for three weeks.
That was said by two employees who remained at the plant in the early days of the siege more than 2,000 civilians took refuge there, many of them relatives of employees.
The Russian Defense Ministry has called for a ceasefire for Wednesday at the plant site to allow civilians to leave, Russian state media reported. However, previous attempts to stop the fighting they failed.
The plant, which covers 6 square kilometersis a complex of buildings, chimneys, blast furnaces and stacks of steel coils and plates and has its own port facility on the Sea of Azov.
The plant, which covers 6 square kilometers, is a complex of buildings, smokestack, blast furnace and coil stack. Photo: Reuters
This is one of the largest steel companies in Europe and produced approximately 4.3 million tons of steel per year before the Russian invasion, according to Metinvest, a steel and mining conglomerate owned by richest man in Ukrainebillionaire Rinat Akhmetov.
Ang network of passages and crypts, which is now critical to the safety of entrenched soldiers and civilians, was originally built on transportation equipment between buildings, according to Metinvest. There was no military use of the tunnels planned before the war, the company said.
The steel plant became the target of heavy shelling, a Ukrainian commander, Lt. Col. Denys Prokopenko, said in a video recorded at the factory on Monday. “They use free fall bombs, rockets, anti-bunker bombs, all sorts of both land and naval artillery to carry out indiscriminate attacks, ”he said.
The Russians are trying to establish undisputed control over the territory linking the isolated regions of the Donbas, in southeastern Ukraine, to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. The Mariupol protesters are the last big hurdle remaining in the region.
Russian forces have besieged the city, a major port, since last month, raining most of it make it rubble and gradually strengthens his control.
The fight for the Azovstal steel plant is reminiscent of one of the great clashes of World War II, the battle for the Stalingrad Tractor Factory, when Nazi German forces tried to seize that city. Thousands of German and Soviet soldiers died there, as well as many civilians, before the Soviets finally took over.
“We’ve already watched this movie”Said Kagan. “As long as it’s a huge industrial complex, it would be a good fighting position for defenders.
three tons of bombs
Ukraine’s intelligence service wrote in a statement on Monday that the Russians were preparing to use 3 tons of fire against the plant in an effort to eliminate it entirely. Moscow “nor prevented by the fact there are civilians refugees at the plant, ”the service said in a statement.
the steel mill was built by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and rebuilt after World War II. it’s a maze of railway systems, workshops, blast furnaces and warehouses, and many of its buildings are made of thick concrete and designed to withstand high temperatures.
If Russia was able to demolish the buildings in the complex, it is unclear how many people hiding underground could survive. However, ultimately they will run out of suppliesand the Ukrainians have repeatedly warned that the Russians could use it chemical weapons to force them out or kill.
In the maze of the siege, it was difficult to get a clear picture of what was going on inside the factory. But according to Yatsura, some employees stay there. They remained after the start of the invasion to prepare the bomb shelter of the complex and remove hazardous materials.
The expulsion of the plant may have symbolic value especially for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who justified his aggression by falsely claiming that Ukraine was ruled by the Nazis and he drives them away.
Plant protectors include members of Azov Battalion, force with intense right-wing soldiers in its ranks, some of whom were foreigners, which were white supremacists and people defined as fascists.
Taking the Azovstal plant will also give the Russians better access to the railway system and to the port region of.
How long the Ukrainian defenders will be able to repel the Russian occupiers in that area will largely depend on the number of people inside and their ability to resist.
. Piotr Andryushchenko, an aide of Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, said that the Ukrainian army has organized two operations in the last two weeks to bring food to the plant; he did not say how that was done. But the situation is likely to worsen, he added, as has happened with Russian troops prevents entry and exit of the city of any person, including civilians.
“These people, many want to avoid being displaced or deported, so they found shelter with our troops, in the basement of the plant,” said Andryushchenko, who, like the mayor, left the city a few weeks ago. that ago.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Sunday that its forces had completely surrounded by the steel plant and that the Ukrainian resistance forces “banned negotiations for surrender,” citing a blocked radio transmission.
New York Times
Translation: Elisa Carnelli