‘This is what hell on earth looks like’ The last remaining Ukrainian troops in Mariupol call on world leaders to help them — and civilians — escape
Sergiy Volyna, commander of the Ukrainian Navy's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, which is currently mounting a last stand against Russian invaders from the Azovstal metalworks plant in Mariupol, released a video in which he calls on world leaders to evacuate the civilians and soldiers still hiding in the plant to a different country. Volyna posted the video on his Facebook page.
This is our appeal to the world. It might be our last message. It’s possible that we only have days, or even hours, left. The enemy forces here outnumber us 10 to one. They have superior air forces, artillery forces, land forces, equipment, and tanks.
The Azovstal plant is the last place in Mariupol still under Ukrainian control, according to Volyna. He said there are currently about 500 injured soldiers and hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in the facility.
We call on world leaders to help us. We’re asking you do conduct an extraction procedure and take us to a third country’s territory.
Under the video, Volyna tagged the official Facebook pages of U.S. President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.
Volyna’s video was published early in the morning on April 20. Previously, on April 19, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade had released a letter addressing Pope Francis. In the letter, like in the video, Volyna pleaded for help evacuating from Mariupol.
You’ve surely seen a lot in your life. But I’m certain you’ve never seen the things that are happening right now in Mariupol. For this is what hell on earth looks like. [...] I don’t have much time to describe all the horrors I see here every day. Women and children are living in the bunkers under the factory. They’re cold and hungry. Every day under enemy fire. Every day, injured people dying because there’s no medicine, no water, no food.
10 days ago, Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol said they had been abandoned
Russia’s siege of Mariupol began on the first day of the war. Russian troops quickly blockaded the city and began shelling it nonstop. In mid-April, the Ukrainian authorities reported that 95 percent of the city’s buildings had been destroyed, and that 120 thousand people (almost a quarter of the city’s population) had been unable to escape. In their estimate, about 20 thousand civilians may have died in Mariupol.
Some Ukrainian troops do remain in the city — namely the 36th Separate Marine Brigade and the Azov Battalion. On April 10 and 11, both units said they had suffered heavy losses and their reserves of weapons, medical supplies, and food were running out. They also reported a lack of communication with Ukraine’s civil and military leadership.
Valery Zaluzhny, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said in response that communications with soldiers in Mariupol had been “steady and maintained,” and that “ongoing defense operations are not a topic for public discussion.”
The soldiers who are still in Mariupol have taken refuge in the Azovstal and Illich metalworks plants. On April 12, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that a group of Ukrainian soldiers had tried to break out of the city from the Illich plant; the following day, the ministry reported that more than a thousand soldiers from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade stationed in the plant had surrendered. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials reported that a portion of the soldiers had surrendered while another portion managed to get to the Azovstal plant and join the Azov Battalion.
On April 15, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the Illich plant was “completely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists.” On April 19, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced that its forces were storming the Azovstal plant. According to the Mariupol city authorities, about one thousand civilians are hiding in the plant along with the soldiers, and Russian forces have been targeting the plant with “very heavy bombs.” On the evening of April 19, Azov Deputy Commander Svyatoslav Palamar reported that the plant had been “almost completely destroyed.”
Russia called on Mariupol's defenders to surrender multiple times
On April 17 and again April 19, the Russian Defense Ministry declared it would open humanitarian corridors for “nationalist battalion fighters and foreign mercenaries” and called on them to surrender. Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said that the “offer” was made “taking into account the catastrophic situation that has developed at the Azovstal metallurgical plant” and was “also guided by purely humane principles.”
The Ukrainian soldiers in the plant refused to surrender on April 19. Presumably, they also refused on April 17, as the Russian Defense Ministry didn’t report any surrenders that day, either. The ministry claimed that the soldiers in Mariupol were willing to surrender but that Kyiv wouldn’t allow them to.
The Russian Defense Ministry also denied Ukrainian claims that there were a large number of civilians in the Azovstal plant, calling the statements “false information, thought up exclusively to save the nationalists.” Later, however, the ministry conceded that there might be some civilians in the plant, but that Ukrainian forces were using them as “human shields.”
On the evening of April 19, DNR representatives announced that 120 civilians (and five soldiers) had come out of the plant. RIA Novosti showed images of what it claimed were civilians being evacuated. It’s unclear how many soldiers and civilians remain in the plant.
Additionally, on the evening of April 19, the Russian Defense Ministry once again called for the Ukrainian soldiers in the plant to surrender. They would have a chance to lay down their weapons beginning at 2:00 p.m. on April 20, according to the ministry.
On April 19, The New York Times reported that one of its correspondents had managed to talk for 15 minutes with several Ukrainian soldiers who were most likely hiding in underground bunkers at the Azovstal plant. They told the Times that they didn’t want to surrender, but that they had run out of the resources necessary to resist.
“We’re surrounded; they’re bombing us with everything they can. Our only plan is for the blockade to be broken by our forces so that we can get out of here. [...] As we’re talking to you, they’re firing on us from the air, dropping bombs. Tell America to help us,” said a soldier who went by the name Gasim.