Ukrainian forces at Azovstal vow to continue fighting
Ukraine’s forces entrenched at the Azovstal steel plant in the Black Sea port-city of Mariupol have no plans to surrender, fighters from the neo-Nazi Azov regiment told journalists on Sunday during a video press conference.
A man identified as Ilya Samoylenko, described as an Azov fighter and a military intelligence officer by various media, has called an option of surrender “unacceptable,” adding that it would be a “a gift for the enemy,” referring to the Russian troops and the Donbass republics’ militias controlling most of Mariupol.
"We will continue to fight as long as we live,” Sviatoslav Palamar, a deputy commander of the Azov regiment has said. Samoylenko specified that “evacuation” of the Ukrainian forces from the territory of the steel plant is the only viable option and demanded that Kiev take “decisive steps” to facilitate this.
He has also added that the forces holed up at the plant are ready to accept assistance from “any nation” except for Russia and its allies. Previously, a commander of Ukrainian marines also entrenched at the Azovstal plant had asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for such help.
Samoylenko has admitted that the fighters at the plant had “spent all the resources [needed] for efficient defense.” The Ukrainian forces still have food, water and weapons but their resources “are limited,” he has added.
The intelligence officer has also admitted that there are still “hundreds” of injured soldiers at the plant and called on Kiev to evacuate them together with the medics, who, according to him, are “exhausted.” Palamar has, meanwhile, criticized Ukrainian politicians, who’d praised earlier efforts to evacuate civilians from the plant as a “success.”
“Have all the civilians been evacuated? We cannot say for sure because no international organizations, no Ukrainian politicians have come to the plant…” the Azov regiment deputy commander has said, adding that “some politicians have no delicacy but only cynicism” that allows them to call it “a successful civilian evacuation.” He has rebuked Kiev for abandoning Mariupol and for failing to evacuate its residents, who remained trapped in the city during the fighting.
His words came a day after Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereschuk announced that all of the women, children and elderly civilians trapped in the Azovstal complex in Mariupol had been evacuated. The UN said at that time that 500 people had been evacuated from the facility in the night between Thursday and Friday.
Russia had previously accused the Ukrainian soldiers and neo-Nazi militias occupying the plant – including the notorious Azov regiment – of holding civilians there to barter for supplies. A video published and later deleted by the German magazine Der Spiegel showed an evacuee saying they had been kept “in a bunker” under Azovstal for two months, and were forbidden by the Azov militants from using the Russian-established humanitarian corridors.
Samoylenko has also accused the Ukrainian officials of “failing to defend Mariupol; failing to prepare Mariupol’s defenses,” adding they had received “zero support” during the two-and-a-half-month siege. “We have been left to our own fate,” he has added.
Earlier on Sunday, the commander of the country's 36th Naval Infantry Brigade, Colonel Vladimir Baranyuk, who was captured by the Russian forces, told RT that Kiev had lied to the troops encircled in Mariupol. Ukrainian officials had told the soldiers in the city help was on its way but made no real attempts to break the city blockade, he said.
Azovstal, a gargantuan Soviet-built factory complex spread over 11 square kilometers, remains the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, which is otherwise controlled by Russian troops and the Donbass republics’ militias. The Russian military repeatedly offered those entrenched at the plant a chance to surrender, which has so far been rejected. Instead, the Ukrainian forces and nationalist militias holed up there appealed to Kiev and “third nations” to facilitate their “extraction.”
Russia attacked its neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.