Ukrainian fighters holed up in underground bunkers in a vast steel mill in the southeastern city of Mariupol have pledged to continue to fight until the end as Russian forces kept up their attacks on the Azovstal plant.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, told an online conference on Sunday.
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“We don’t have much time; we are coming under intense shelling,” he said, pleading with the international community to help to evacuate wounded soldiers from the plant in Mariupol.
The Azovstal steel mill is the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the devastated port city and its fate has taken on a symbolic value in the broader battle since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Hundreds of civilians had also taken shelter from Russian attacks in the steel mill for weeks, but all have been evacuated in recent days as part of a humanitarian mission coordinated by the United Nations and the Red Cross.
Only the fighters and medics remain in Azovstal now.
But another Azov Regiment officer also said surrender was “not an option”.
“We, all of the military personnel in the garrison of Mariupol, we have witnessed the war crimes performed by Russia, by the Russian army. We are witnesses,” said Ilya Samoilenko, an intelligence officer.
“Surrender is not an option because Russia is not interested in our lives.”
He added that the regiment would not abandon its 200 or so wounded soldiers.
“We can’t abandon our injured, our dead – these people deserve fitting treatment, they deserve a burial worthy of the name. We won’t leave anyone behind us,” he said.
Ukrainian officials have pledged to continue diplomatic efforts to evacuate the soldiers, with Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, saying on social media that Kyiv “won’t stop until we evacuate all our people” from Azovstal.
Khusnullin visits Mariupol
Mariupol is key to Moscow’s efforts to link the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that have been controlled by Russia-backed separatists since then.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said on Telegram that he visited Mariupol on Sunday, the country’s most senior government figure to set foot in the city after weeks of Russian bombardment.
Khusnullin, who is in charge of construction and urban development in the Russian government, said on Telegram that he had visited Mariupol and the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha among other territories “liberated” by Russian forces.
“Restoration of peaceful life begins in the regions. There’s a lot of work to be done. We will help, in particular … with providing humanitarian aid,” he wrote in a Telegram post.
Khusnullin visited the commercial port of Mariupol, which he said should be used to bring in building materials to restore the city, according to the Russian defence ministry’s TV channel Zvezda.
The port will ship off the first cargo from the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in May, its head Denis Pushilin, who accompanied Khusnullin, said on Telegram.