20 Apr 2022 12:18 pm
The Ukrainian soldiers who remained on the premises of the “Azov-Steel” metallurgical plant did not respond to Russian offers and remained surrounded. On the other hand, they are appealing to other governments around the world and asking for evacuation to third countries. Allegedly, civilians were also surrounded with them.
On the premises of the metallurgical combine “Azov-Steel” [Asowstal; Азовсталь] According to Russian information, around 2,000 fighters from the regular Ukrainian army and the nationalist Azov regiment remain encircled in Mariupol. The stormtroopers of the Donetsk People’s Militia and the Russian army have meanwhile penetrated the factory premises and are occupying hall after hall. The residential areas adjacent to the plant have also been brought under their control, and the last 120 civilians who remained there were evacuated from the cellars on Tuesday afternoon. They have been there since the beginning of March and, according to their own statements, suffered from Ukrainian artillery fire.
On Tuesday, the Russian military imposed a ceasefire from 2 p.m., which could have been used to evacuate any civilians who might have remained on the factory premises. The Ukrainian side previously claimed that around 1,000 civilians were still trapped there. Although Russia considered this information to be a lie, it did not want to rule out the possibility that civilians – such as factory employees held by Azov fighters – could actually still be on the site. Also, during this ceasefire, Ukrainian soldiers could surrender to save their lives.
On Tuesday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry said that no one had used the corridor until 10:00 p.m. Moscow time (9:00 p.m. CEST). This was followed by another announcement of a unilateral ceasefire with a humanitarian corridor out of the Azov steel plant premises for Wednesday at 14:00 Moscow time (13:00 CET).
On Wednesday morning, instead of surrendering, the encircled fighters gave a media-effective sign of life. In a published on Facebook appeal they asked for an evacuation to third countries. “The enemy outnumbers us 10 to 1,” said Sergei Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, in his one-minute video message:
“We appeal to all world leaders to help us.”
Russia has advantages in the air, artillery, ground forces, equipment and tanks, Wolyna says. The Ukrainian side is defending only one object, the Azov-Steel steel plant, where, in addition to the military, there are also civilians.
Volyna asked to use the “procedure of extraction” and to take everyone – both the military of the Ukrainian Mariupol garrison, more than 500 wounded fighters and hundreds of civilians, including women and children – to safety on the territory of a third country. “This is our appeal to the world,” said Wolyna. “This could be the last appeal of our lives.”
Wolyna told the CNN TV channel that an evacuation could be carried out by ship or helicopter. An international humanitarian mission is also a possibility. He did not say how many Ukrainian soldiers were on the premises of the steel mill. The video was shot in a single take, and no video evidence of the presence of civilians among those trapped was provided.
The commander’s announcement was apparently closely coordinated with the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv. Joe Biden, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Boris Johnson were addressed and the text was subtitled in English. Russia assumes that numerous foreign mercenaries are also included in Azov steel.
In his press appearance on Tuesday, the head of the Interdepartmental Coordination Center for Humanitarian Aid of the Russian Federation, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, called Kyiv’s refusal to use the humanitarian corridors offered by Russia from Mariupol obstinate and cynical. This is a lie and a betrayal of their own people and a betrayal of the Ukrainian soldiers and nationalist battalions.
He referred to intercepted radio messages from the commanders of the units remaining in Azov-Stahl and said that they recognized the hopelessness of their situation and were ready to lay down their arms, “but only on a corresponding order from Kyiv”. Otherwise they were threatened with punishment under the martial law in force in Ukraine – up to and including shooting.
The civilians – should there actually be any in Azov-Stahl – would be used by the fighters as “human shields”. “This credible information was corroborated by testimonies of captured Ukrainian soldiers and intercepted radio communications during hostilities in the Mariupol area.”
Mizintsev once again called on the government in Kyiv to use the humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of people in need on Wednesday from 2 p.m. and shared its coordinates and the number of buses available. From this moment on, the ceasefire applies again on the delimited factory premises. However, it is to be expected that the Ukrainian government will let the offer pass without taking advantage of it. He addressed the commanders of the surrounded units and the individual soldiers directly, calling on them to lay down their arms in order to save their own lives.
There are now thousands of Ukrainian soldiers in prison. They are being held in the detention centers of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. More than 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered last week. They were surrounded at another large factory site in Mariupol. However, there have also been unsuccessful attempts to break through. About 50 infantrymen died in such an attempt.
Russia’s military authorities regularly call on Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms and surrender. Every single fighter is checked to see if he has participated in war crimes. Since the beginning of the Donbass war eight years ago, the law enforcement agencies in Donetsk, Lugansk and Moscow have been investigating, and there are now thousands of open cases. Above all, the commanding officers of the Ukrainian army and fighters of the notorious nationalist units such as Azov or Aidar are threatened with trial. Now they are also being confronted with new allegations of having targeted or killed civilians in Mariupol and other cities during the fighting.
More on the subject – Ukrainian defectors: “We had orders to shoot at civilians”