“Alive, but the bombardment is getting louder and the circles are getting smaller. We are dying slowly here. It feels like looking into hell. I don’t know how much longer we can go on and I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again. Remember, I love you very much.”
This was the last message Nataliia Zarytska heard from her husband Bogdan, one of the desperately holding out soldiers in Mariupol. Surrounded by an overwhelming number of Russian troops, he was attacked by air and artillery fire and had little or no chance of escaping.
About 2,500 troops, of which more than 700 were wounded, were trapped in the massive Azovstal steel mill.
These warriors became the source of Kremlin propaganda and became the focus of criticism among Ukrainians in rare cases of division since the start of the war, with accusations that the Volodymir Zelensky government had abandoned them.
Most of the elderly, women and children were rescued from Mariupol in cooperation with the United Nations and the Red Cross. About 100 other people are still there, according to local officials, and ongoing efforts to rescue them are delayed as both sides blame each other.
The fall of Mariupol would be the Kremlin’s rare victory in a largely and surprisingly unsuccessful conflict since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Control of the port city would allow Russia to open a land route of strategic value between the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Crimean Peninsula, which they annexed eight years ago.
Azovstal’s Ukrainian army is also a prize of Moscow. Most come from the Azov Battalion, which has long been criticized as one of the fascists in Russia trying to take control of Ukraine. Killing or capturing them would be in line with Putin’s proclaimed national “de-Nazi” goals.
Some military families formed support groups and lobbied the Ukrainian government to organize extractions from the factories. They were disbanded by the police at protests condemning the harsh behavior by civil rights groups and local media.
Zelensky argued that an international effort was underway to ensure the safe passage of troops and remnants of civilians. Although the situation is “very difficult,” he added, “we must not lose hope.”
But at Azovstal there seems to be little hope for the rescue. A soldier Nikolai independent “We are left here to defend ourselves,” he said via Telegram. I’ve heard officials say that the government has given us a chance to withdraw. That didn’t happen.
“Instead, the command was to defend the land. That’s what we did. This gave other units time to withdraw and civilians to withdraw as well. We have done our duty and we expect the government to do their duty.”
Zarytska shared another message from her 31-year-old husband from inside the factory: The Russians are beating us in their spare time, firing from high points, and their planes are slowly approaching us.
“They hit the area where the wounded were staying, killing a few and injuring a few more. It is Dante’s Hell. What should we do? Kill the wounded and shoot ourselves? It’s better for our commander to order us to shoot than to surrender. ”
At a special online press conference earlier this week, two Azov officers from the Azovstal plant accused the Zelensky government of failing to defend Mariupol and pointed out that surrendering to Russian forces meant the military would sign their own death warrant.
Lieutenant Ilya Somoilenko said: “Our government has failed to defend Mariupol and has failed to prepare for it. “Surrender is not an option because Russia is not interested in our lives and has no interest in making us live.” Deputy commander Sviatoslav Palamar said the government was “cynic” in celebrating civilian rescue as more people died in Mariupol.
The Azov Battalion itself posts pictures of wounded soldiers showing how they live in dirty conditions “with open wounds” and “without the necessary medicines and food.” “We demand the immediate evacuation of wounded soldiers to areas controlled by Ukraine,” it said in a statement.
A public petition urging the government to rescue the Azovstal defenders garnered 1.5 million signatures in a matter of days. Organizations representing military families are reaching out to Kyiv as well as foreign governments for help. They are also contacting the UN and the ICRC for assistance.
The Azov Battalion was incorporated into the Ukrainian Army after the Separatist War 8 years ago. Many members and their families claim that their ties with the far-right have loosened. He argues that the recruitment is high because the battalion is among the most professional units in the Ukrainian army rather than for ideological reasons.
Zarytsk, 36, took part in protests calling for rescue. However, she wanted to emphasize that the goal of her family is to seek cooperation, not confrontation. One suggestion is that the combatants could be evacuated to a third country (perhaps because of their close proximity to Turkey).
Evgeny Sukharnikov, whose 24-year-old son is one of the warriors of the Azovstal plant, said: We are all trying to find a solution. Surrender is not optional. They are right to fear that the Russians might kill them. You can’t trust Putin.
“To save these people now, we need international help. We want countries that have relations with Russia to intervene. This is a humanitarian crisis.”
Tatiana and Stavr Vyshnyak lived in the midst of fierce fighting in Brovari, near Kyiv, when it became a battleground between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Their 21-year-old son Artem, stationed in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol, was in regular contact to make sure they were okay.
“Now it’s our turn to be very concerned,” said Vyshnyak, 43. Do.
“These people have fought bravely for their country, and the government must save them. I have feelings for all mothers towards their children. My son is 21 years old. The thought of dying in a place like where he is now is a terrifying feeling. So we keep thinking positive and we hope he and others will soon be free.”
On April 17, Nataliia Zarytska married Bogdan via a Telegram message. After receiving her legal training, a woman who had been murdered by her husband the day before her filled out the necessary paperwork to stand up as her witness.
“My man has lost 20 kg since he was in Mariupol and looked sick,” she said. “There were no ceremonies, everything was very short, and the time had to be short because the Russians attacked.
“It wasn’t the wedding anyone imagined. But it was really great and made me rethink how precious life is. I keep telling Bogdan that we will be together again and have a family. I keep telling him he shouldn’t give up. He will come from Azovstal and all of them will come from Azovstal.”