Desperate Plea from Mariupol: 'Tell America to Help Us'

Ukrainian soldiers, civilians seek a way out of surrounded steel plant
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2022 7:00 AM CDT
Mariupol's Last Defenders: 'We Have Very Little Time Left'
A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by Russia's estimate, remained holed up at a mammoth steel mill in Mariupol, the last known pocket of resistance in the devastated southern port city.   (AP)

Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the besieged city of Mariupol issued a desperate call for help Tuesday night, as Russian troops bombarded their base at a steel plant, which represents the "last substantial obstacle" in Russia's push to connect separatist-held regions of Donbas to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, per the New York Times. "We're surrounded; they're bombing us with everything they can," said a soldier identified as Gasim, who contacted a Times reporter around midnight using WhatsApp. Separately, the commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade issued what he said could be his last statement, requesting the evacuation of what are thought to be thousands of soldiers and civilians inside the steel mill with a network of underground bunkers.

"We ask you to take us to the territory of a third country and provide us with security," said Maj. Serhii Volyna, naming the US specifically, per CNN. "The city is destroyed. Enemy groups outnumber us dozens of times, they have a complete advantage in air, artillery, equipment, manpower. We fight to the last, but we have very little time left … only a few days, or even hours, left." He said supplies were low and there were about 500 wounded military members. "It is very difficult to provide them with medical care. They literally rot," he noted. "Our only plan is for the blockade to be broken by our forces so that we can get out of here," Gasim told the Times reporter. "Tell America to help us."

Russia has repeatedly issued demands of surrender while bombarding the plant with airstrikes, mortar rounds, and naval artillery fire from the Sea of Azov, per the Times. But breaching the site appears to be a challenge. The Azovstal steel plant "is basically a city under a city" and built to weather a nuclear war, a man claiming to be a Russian adviser to the Kremlin-backed government in Donetsk, Ukraine, said in a broadcast report, per the Times. It includes a network of underground spaces originally built to move equipment between the complex's many concrete buildings, covering four square miles, according to Metinvest, the company that owns the plant.

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A rep tells the Times that the underground bunkers can hold up to 4,000 people. Earlier in the seige, employees said more than 2,000 civilians were sheltering there. Moscow is "not deterred by the fact that civilians have taken refuge in the plant," Ukraine's intelligence service said Monday, adding Russians planned to use three-ton bombs to raze the site. Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, has since announced a deal to allow women, children, and the elderly to leave Mariupol. Officials hope to evacuate 6,000 of the 100,000 people trapped in the city, per the BBC. It's unclear if any of those in the steel plant will be included. (More Ukraine stories.)

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