The last of the defenders of the Azovstal steel plant attacks the Ukrainian government


“We are basically here, dead men”

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An intelligence officer holed up in Mariupol’s massive Azovstal steel plant has criticized the Ukrainian government for leaving citizens and soldiers alone.

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“We had no support – no air support, no artillery or ground support. We were left on our own,” Ilya Samoilenko said, while adding that they continued to fight. to beat.

“We are basically here, dead men. Most of us know that and that’s why we fight so bravely,” he said.

“Surrender is not an option.”

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Samoilenko, 27, believes Moscow could not allow the regiments that turned the factory into a fortress to live because of the war crimes defenders had witnessed, he told a lengthy press conference. online press Sunday. He said they had enough food and weapons to last a while longer.

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Describing their increasingly grim situation, Samoilenko made clear his bitterness towards the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.

“We feel abandoned,” he said, adding that Ukraine had failed in its defense of southern Ukraine, where Russia was advancing much faster than in the north, and had abandoned the Mariupol garrison. to his fate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a day earlier that diplomatic efforts were underway to try to free the fighters, medics and injured – although he acknowledged it would be “extremely difficult”.

A view shows an explosion at a factory of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermoshenko
A view shows an explosion at a factory of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermoshenko

Samoilenko said Russian forces continued to besiege the steelworks until Sunday with airstrikes; artillery bombardment; tank, drone and sniper fire, as well as infantry assaults into small groups of about 100 soldiers on the ground in an attempt to seize the factory.

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Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery were carrying out “assault operations” on the Mariupol steelworks where the city’s last defenders are entrenched.

The defense of Mariupol has been hotly contested, in part because it is the largest city in Ukrainian-controlled Donbass – the region critical to Russia’s goal of establishing a land corridor between its mainland and the Crimea, annexed to Ukraine in 2014.

The town was largely leveled by shelling during the siege, with civilians struggling for access to food, electricity and water. All the women and children who had been crammed into the steelworks’ 36 bunkers for weeks were evacuated.

But Samoilenko said “it’s heartbreaking to see politicians celebrating the evacuation of a small group of people, when up to 25,000 people have been murdered in Mariupol.”

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The site is a maze of warehouses, ovens, tunnels and railroad tracks over six stories underground with numerous bunkers where civilians and soldiers hid for two months, living in darkness in harsh conditions, the report said. Kyiv Independent.

“We are ready,” Samoilenko said, when asked if the fighting had started in the tunnels. At the same time, he offered a military rescue, but acknowledged that it would take months to execute against well-established Russian defenses.

It also added to a stark, emergent picture of life in Azovstal’s maze of underground tunnels and shelters.

Heroism arises when the overall (command) structure fails

Azov soldier Ilya Samoilenko

Samoilenko described extracting civilians from some bunkers that collapsed under Russian shelling, as well as injured soldiers succumbing to pneumonia and other illnesses caused by dust and dirt in the makeshift underground field hospital From the factory.

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As is clear from a fast-scrolling chat accompanying a YouTube stream of the Azov Zoom call that at one point had at least 35,000 viewers, many Ukrainians regard the regiment’s heroes for their relentless defense of Mariupol.

“Heroism appears when the overall (command) structure fails,” Samoilenko said.

Steelworker Serhiy Kuzmenko, who was among one of the last groups of civilians to be evacuated from the plant, agrees.

“Without their help and food, we couldn’t have survived,” Kuzmenko said on Saturday. At first, the Azov troops occasionally brought food and diapers for the children, some of whom were barely a year old. Kuzmenko’s daughter is eight years old. But after their own food ran out at the end of March, military deliveries became systematic.

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“Every three or four days they would bring us food – porridge, pasta,” Kuzmenko told Zoom. “We didn’t have a generator, so they brought us charged batteries.”

Cooking the only meal a day split among the 70 people sharing the Kuzmenko bunker was done in buckets, he said. On some days, the above explosions would scatter bits of plaster, dust and glass into the food.

Even without the shelling, the underground environment was unhealthy and Kuzmenko, 31, now fears for his daughter’s lungs. The dampness and poor ventilation in the crowded bunkers created mold. He remembers hanging up a jacket only to find it covered in spores two days later.

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Kuzmenko worked in Azovstal for a decade, where he oversaw the equipping of a factory that turned cast iron into steel. When he finally left with his wife and child, it took two days before they reached Ukrainian-controlled territory in Zaporizhzhia, as they were first interrogated by Russians who ran camps of filtration.

“We were interrogated – we were asked what we saw, who we talked to, who we knew, where the Ukrainian soldiers were,” Kuzmenko said. “Each person was interrogated for an hour and a half by different Russians.”

Her group included two sisters, including a 22-year-old police officer. When Russian interrogators learned of her, she was never seen again. “We have no idea what happened to him,” Kuzmenko said.

Samoilenko said the regiment was banking on a political agreement to extract them. He called on outside countries to step in and find a way.

“It’s not that hard to stop being afraid of Russia,” he said. “It’s really just stand up and fight, stand up and fight.”

— with additional reporting by the National Post



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