Ukrainian fighters at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the southeastern city of Mariupol have vowed to continue to fight until the end, as they retain the last holdout against Russian forces in the strategic port city.
“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.
“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.
Ilya Samoilenko, an Azov regiment intelligence officer, said “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. Surrender is not an option because Russia is not interested in our lives.”
Samoilenko added that supplies are limited. “We still have water. We still have munitions. We will have our personal weapons. We will fight until the best resolution of the situation,” he said.
Ukraine has said that all women, children and elderly civilians have been allowed to flee from Azovstal as part of a humanitarian mission coordinated by the United Nations and the Red Cross.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that his government was preparing for the second stage of the evacuation mission, focusing on the wounded and medics.
Diplomatic efforts to evacuate the remaining soldiers were also under way, albeit “extremely difficult”, Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian military said Russia was continuing its intensive shelling of the plant. Moscow claimed it had taken control of the city on the Sea of Azov on April 21 after nearly two months of siege, despite Ukrainian fighters still being holed up in the sprawling Soviet-era steel mill.
Territories ‘liberated’ by Russian forces
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visited Mariupol on Sunday, becoming the country’s most senior government official to set foot in the port 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, which lies between the Crimea Peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russian-backed separatists the same year, is key to linking up the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.
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.