Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ruled out the liberation of the coastal city of Mariupol occupied by Russian forces. “Ukraine does not have enough heavy weapons to liberate Mariupol by military means,” Zelensky said at a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Kyiv on Sunday. The fighters trapped in the steel mills of Azovstal ruled out surrendering again.
It was possible, at least through diplomatic channels, to get civilians out of the besieged steel mills, Zelensky said. But for the remaining Ukrainian soldiers, evacuation will be difficult. “The Russian soldiers, the Russian army, the army command and the political leadership of the Russian Federation do not want to allow our soldiers to leave,” the head of the Ukrainian state said. Kyiv asked Turkey, Israel, France, Switzerland, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to mediate.
The Ukrainian military fears that after all civilians are evacuated from the steel plant, there may be ruthless fighting around it. The Ukrainian General Staff announced, on Sunday morning, that the units in the area of steel plants are still closed. And there were “Russian attacks” “supported by artillery and tanks”.
“The enemy is trying to eliminate the defenders of Azovstal, they are trying to do it before May 9 as a gift (to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin), said Oleksiy Aristovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Zelensky. Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany on May 9 with a traditional military parade.
Hundreds of soldiers are holed up in the industrial complex, the last stronghold of the Ukrainian army in the devastated port city of Mariupol. If the steel plants eventually fell, the Russians would take the strategically important port city entirely, which would be an important military success for Moscow.
Moscow’s stated goal is to establish a land connection between Crimea on the Black Sea, which was annexed in 2014, and the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk controlled by pro-Russian separatists. To date, Kherson is the only significant Ukrainian city that is completely under Russian control. However, Mariupol has also been under almost complete Russian control for weeks. Ukrainian forces are about 100 km away and unable to assist the remaining soldiers in the largely destroyed city.
Meanwhile, the besieged Ukrainian fighters said they would continue their resistance to the bitter end if necessary. “We will continue to fight as long as we live to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Svyatoslav Balamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, said in an online conference. “We don’t have much time, we are under heavy fire,” he said, asking the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers from the steel plant. Ballamar adds that he cannot confirm that all civilians have already evacuated the facility.
Zelensky spoke Saturday evening in a speech to 300 people who were removed from the steel plant. It is a “second stage” of the evacuation operations in preparation for the “wounded and the medical staff.” Zelensky added that the government “is of course also working to get our soldiers out. All these heroes are defending Mariupol,” without giving any figures. “It’s very difficult. But it is important.”
Ilga Samoylenko of the Azov battalion criticized the Ukrainian leadership in an online press conference, saying: “Our government failed to defend Mariupol. It failed to prepare the defence.” The fact that the last fighters of the nationalist-dominated Azov Regiment who were holed up in Azovstal are now celebrated as heroes was no reason to be happy, he said, “shows heroism when planning and organization fail.” Samolchenko again ruled out his surrender on Sunday. “Surrendering is not an option because our lives do not matter to Russia,” he said.
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