Ukrainian fighters fighting Russian forces in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s massive steelworks refuse to surrender in the face of relentless attacks.
The battle in the strategic port city’s last Ukrainian stronghold, left in ruins by the Russian attack, seemed increasingly desperate on Thursday.
“They will not surrender,” Kateryna Prokopenko said after speaking to her husband, a leader of the steel mills’ defenders, on the phone. “You’re just hoping for a miracle.”
She said her husband, commander of the Azov regiment Denys Prokopenko, told her he would love her forever.
“It’s driving me insane. It seemed like parting words,” she said.
The fighting came amid growing suspicions that President Vladimir Putin wants to bring the Russian people a major victory on the battlefield in time for Monday’s Victory Day, which marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.
Around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are holed up in a labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers under Mariupol’s sprawling Azovstal steelworks, according to Russia’s latest estimates. It was also believed that a few hundred civilians were trapped there.
“There are many wounded (fighters), but they are not surrendering,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late Thursday evening. “They hold their positions.”
He said the attack prevented the evacuation of the remaining civilians.
“Imagine this hell. And there are children,” he said. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”
The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free troops to fight elsewhere in Donbass, the Kremlin’s eastern industrial region says is now his main goal.
The Kremlin has asked the troops to surrender. You refused. Russia has also accused them of preventing the civilians from leaving.
The head of the United Nations said another attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and the plant was underway. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We must continue to do everything we can to get people out of these hellscapes.”
More than 100 civilians were rescued from the steel mill over the weekend. But many previous attempts to open safe corridors from Mariupol have failed, with Ukraine blaming Russian shelling and fire.
Meanwhile, ten weeks into the devastating war, Ukraine’s military claimed it had retaken some areas in the south and repulsed other attacks in the east, further daunting Putin’s ambitions after his failed attempt to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian and Russian forces fight village after village.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces were making “slow” progress in Donbass.
The Chief of the British Armed Forces, Chief of Defense Staff Tony Radakin, said Mr Putin was trying to “rush to a tactical victory” ahead of Victory Day. But he said Russian forces were struggling to gain momentum.
On Thursday, a US official said the US shared information about the location of a Russian flagship with Ukraine before it was sunk in mid-April, one of Moscow’s most notable failures in the war.
The US has provided “a range of information” including locations of warships, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the decision to target the missile cruiser Moskva was a purely Ukrainian decision.
Fearing fresh attacks around Victory Day, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged residents to go to the countryside over the long weekend and warned them not to gather in public places.
And the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, a key transit point for evacuees from Mariupol, announced a curfew from Sunday evening until Tuesday morning.
Mariupol, which had a population of over 400,000 before the war, has become a symbol of the misery caused by the war. The siege of the city trapped perhaps 100,000 civilians with little food, water, medicine, or warmth.
As the battle raged there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Thursday’s Russian bombardment hit dozens of Ukrainian military targets, including troop concentrations in the east, an artillery battery near the eastern settlement of Sarozhne and rocket launchers near the southern one City of Mykolaiv.
Five people were killed and dozens wounded in shelling cities in Donbass in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said. Shells hit schools, homes and a medical facility.
Ukrainian forces said they made some gains on the border of southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbass.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/defenders-inside-ukrainian-steel-mill-refuse-to-surrender-to-russia-41620005.html Defenders at Ukrainian steel mill refuse to surrender to Russia