Civilians Freed From Besieged Azovstal in Mariupol as Russia Intensifies Attacks Across Ukraine
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Veheshchuk said Saturday all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel works in Mariupol following an international effort to allow civilians to flee the sprawling complex.
An additional 50 civilians were evacuated in total from the heavily bombarded steel mill in Mariupol, Ukraine.
The release comes as the besieged nation prepares for an escalation of attacks as the Russian insurgence enters its eleventh week.
Evacuated civilians were transferred to nearby Russian-occupied territory with help from the United Nations and the Red Cross, NBC News reports. Nearly 500 civilians have received safe passage from the plant in recent days after enduring weeks of squalor and attacks. Reports from inside the plant claim food supplies have run frighteningly low and wounded soldiers are developing gangrene without clean medical equipment. Mothers report that traumatized children began developing stutters and losing hair after witnessing weeks of death. The United Nations has described the crumbling refuge as a “hellscape,” NBC News reports.
Though the civilian evacuations are a humanitarian relief, Russia reports that approximately 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are still defending the plant and have refused to surrender. Saturday during his nightly address, President Volodomyr Zelensky claimed he’s strategizing to save the troops alongside civilians. “We are also working on diplomatic options to save our troops who are still at Azovstal,” Zelensky said, though did not disclose which leaders are involved in these discussions.
“They need our help badly,” said Serhii Kuzmenko, 31, a Ukrainian civilian who, with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, escaped the mill in recent days, PBS reports. “We need to get them out.”
Though Russian flags are already flying over Mariupol, Azovstal is the final Ukrainian stronghold in the city along the Sea of Azov. The resistance has prevented Russia from claiming total victory over the strategic port, which would give Russia a terrestrial route to occupied Crimea, WTOP News reports. The evacuations follow Vladimir Putin’s past order for his troops to “block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot pass through.”
Even amid the evacuation attempts, Russian forces have intensified attacks on the plant. Aerial photos of Azovstal captured by Planet Labs PBC reveal extensive holes in the roofs of facilities where Ukrainian troops and civilians alike are known to be sheltering.
As Ukrainian troops maintain control of Azovstal, forces elsewhere have likewise displayed remarkable resistance despite Russia’s intensifying bombardment. Troops in Kharkiv have recaptured five villages along the targeted city and satellite photos revealed Ukrainian forces have advanced on Snake Island in the Black Sea, WTOP News reports.
Officials report that attacks across eastern Ukraine are expected to escalate as the Russian calendar approaches Victory Day, a holiday on May 9th that celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Some believe the date marks a deadline for when Putin wants to secure control of Mariupol by seizing Azovstal.
Conversely, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday in a statement marking the Allied victory against Nazi Germany that Russia has tried to “twist history to attempt to justify his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine.” The official, who traveled to Kyiv in recent weeks, said Zelensky and the Ukrainian people “embody the spirit of those who prevailed during the Second World War.”
“We are defending ourselves against an onslaught of tyranny that wants to destroy everything that freedom gives to people and states,” Zelensky said Saturday. “Such a struggle, for freedom and against tyranny, is fully comprehensible for any society, in any corner of the globe.”