A commander for the Ukrainian marines fighting Russian forces in Mariupol says his forces were “may be facing our last days, if not hours”, as Russia issued a new ultimatum to fighters holding out inside a steel plant in the besieged city.
“The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one,” Serhiy Volyna from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade said as he appealed for extraction from the last stronghold in Mariupol in a Facebook post early on Wednesday.
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Hundreds of civilians are believed to be sheltering in the basement of the besieged Azovstal factory, a vast plant with underground tunnels.
According to Russian information, some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters and 400 foreign mercenaries are holed up in the steelworks, while Ukrainian reports say approximately 1,000 civilians are said to have sought protection there.
It is not possible to verify information given by either side given the scale of the fighting and lack of communications in Mariupol, whose port was surrounded by Russian troops on March 1, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
The city and port are largely considered to have been destroyed in weeks of Russian bombing and shellings.
Ukraine aims to evacuate 6,000 from Mariupol
Meanwhile, Mariupol’s mayor said on Wednesday that efforts were being made to evacuate about 6,000 women, children and elderly people from the city.
Vadym Boychenko, who has left Mariupol, said he hoped a preliminary agreement with Russia on establishing a safe corridor would be firmed up and hold.
He said about 100,000 civilians remain in Mariupol and that tens of thousands had been killed in the Russian siege of the Sea of Azov city.
Russia has repeatedly called on Ukrainian troops to surrender, which they have defied. Its defence ministry said Ukrainian forces still holed up inside Azovstal were facing a “catastrophic situation”.
“We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us,” Volyna said in the video. “We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state.”
Russian forces are believed to have gradually pushed their way into the city and some Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that a hospital near the Azovstal plant was hit.
Volyna said the Russians had the “advantage in the air, in artillery, in their forces on land, in equipment, and in tanks”.
“We are only defending one object – the Azovstal plant – where in addition to military personnel, there are also civilians who have fallen victim to this war,” he added.