Relatives of Mariupol steel mill fighters plead for help: ‘They’re abandoning our soldiers’

·2-min read

Relatives of Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal steel plant held demonstrations on Thursday seeking renewed efforts to save those trapped inside the plant.

Demonstrators marched across central Kyiv holding banners and shouting slogans such as “save defenders of Mariupol, save Azovstal”, “glory to the heroes of Mariupol”, and “save the military of Azovstal”.

Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov, has endured the most destructive fighting of the war in Ukraine. Kyiv says it is likely that tens of thousands of people have been killed there since Russia’s invasion began and the Azovstal steel plant is the last part of the city still held by Ukrainian fighters.

Many civilians were evacuated from the sprawling plant last week under an agreement with Russia, but there has been no deal to free fighters, many of whom are wounded and are facing dwindling supplies and food.

Photographs released on Wednesday showed wounded fighters trapped in the steelworks.

Fighters of the Azov Batallion said their comrades are living in unsanitary conditions “with open wounds bandaged with non-sterile remnants of bandages, without the necessary medication and even food”.

Maria Zimareva, whose relative is an Azov Battalion fighter, told Reuters: “I want all the defenders who are there to return home so that they can continue a normal life with their children and relatives.”

“The conditions they are in are horrible,” said Mariupol resident Alina Nesterenko. “I have no words to describe them. That’s why we are here. We are begging, we are pleading in every possible way, we are asking for our loved ones to be saved.”

An Azov Special Forces Regiment’s serviceman, injured during fighting against Russian forces, poses for a photographer inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on 10 May (Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office via AP)
An Azov Special Forces Regiment’s serviceman, injured during fighting against Russian forces, poses for a photographer inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on 10 May (Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office via AP)

Demonstrations were also held outside a hotel in Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday, reported NPR.

“They’re abandoning our soldiers,” Yaroslava Ivantsova, whose husband is one of the Ukrainian fighters, was quoted as saying. “We can’t let this happen.”

Ukrainian officials say there are about 1,000 fighters holding out in Azovstal’s many underground tunnels, hundreds of whom are seriously wounded and in need of urgent evacuation. The plant is under heavy Russian fire.

Wives of some of the fighters appealed to Pope Francis this week to intervene with Russian president Vladimir Putin to allow their husbands to escape the plant to a mediating country.

Ukrainian serviceman in a shelter at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Plant in Mariupol on 10 May (EPA/Azov Special Forces Regiment)
Ukrainian serviceman in a shelter at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Plant in Mariupol on 10 May (EPA/Azov Special Forces Regiment)

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Thursday that authorities are working with the Red Cross and United Nations to help evacuations.

“We have started a new round of negotiations around a road map for an (evacuation) operation. And we will start with those who are badly wounded,” the minister was quoted as saying on 1+1 television.

“We want a document signed on how an evacuation would take place at Azovstal,” she said, adding that Turkey is also acting as an intermediary.

The country has offered to host talks between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

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