After defying a Russian ultimatum to lay down arms, Mariupol’s defenders may be down to their final hours of holding out against Russian forces. Ukrainian Maj. Serhiy Volyna said the industrial site has at least 500 injured troops inside along with civilians, and all are “probably facing our last days, if not hours.”
In what will be its biggest prize in the almost two-month war, Putin’s military has thousands of Ukrainian fighters and as many as a thousand civilians cornered in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works. The sprawling complex employed tens of thousands of people before the Russian invasion, but now its network of underground tunnels serves as shelter and possibly the last stand for the city’s defenders.
Volyna shared a video with media outlets and tagged President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several other world leaders on his personal Facebook page. He appealed for foreign leaders to “use the procedure of extraction” to rescue the fighters and civilians.
The fighters, Volyna says, are outnumbered 10 to 1.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says a new proposal was issued to the besieged holdouts on Wednesday, and a ceasefire in the area will be observed for the proposed time. The ministry added that not one Ukrainian soldier accepted the offer on Tuesday.
The invading forces failed to capture major cities in the north and have now shifted focus to the eastern Donbas region. They continue to launch long-range strikes at distant targets, including the capital Kyiv.
The steel works where the remnants of Mariupol’s resistance are holding out was one of the largest metallurgical factories in Europe before the invasion. It produced more than four million tons of crude steel annually and was the backbone of the port city’s economy, but that is no more. The factory was first built in the early Soviet era and then rebuilt after its World War II Nazi occupation.
Experts describe the industrial facility as a “fortress” and a “city beneath a city,” and it is a good example of why the eastern area is so important for Ukraine.
Moscow’s forces continue to drop heavy bombs on the site, but Russian state media reports it is built to withstanding bombings and blockades and even has an internal communications system. The defenders, however, are far outnumbered and analysts describe their plight as “hopeless.”