Life inside and the ongoing battle were detailed by Yevgenia Tytarenko, a military nurse whose husband, a member of the Azov regiment, and his colleagues are still at the factory.
“Many soldiers are in critical condition. They are wounded and have no medicine,” Yevgenia said. “There is also a shortage of food and water,” she says.
“I will fight to the end,” her husband, Mykhalo, wrote in an SMS that AFP was able to consult.
For several weeks, Mariupol has been almost completely under Russian control. Aside from the major ground attacks at the core of the violent battles, only the vast Azovstal steelworks survived, which was relentlessly augmented by the Russian army.
“The fighters have already said goodbye to their wives. One of them said to his wife: ‘Don’t cry, we will go home no matter what: living or dead,'” says 34-year-old Yevgenia.
According to him, the chances of seeing them empty are very slim.
Nurse describes a chaotic situation inside factory tunnels, soldiers fighting while carrying civilians and corpses through a maze of underground galleries dating from Soviet times.
The dead were wrapped in plastic bags and rotting due to lack of refrigeration systems. But the members of the Azov regiment especially do not want them to fall into the hands of the Russian army.
“Almost everywhere they take corpses with them,” she says. “They deserve to be evacuated”, she adds, “those who are alive, wounded and dead”.
On Saturday, Kyiv announced that all civilian women, children and the elderly who were hiding with the troops had been evacuated, raising questions about the fate now awaiting the soldiers.
Yevgenia fled Mariupol early on February 24, the day of the Russian offensive, when this major southern port city was already being bombed.
She had come two days before marrying Mykhalo, a military nurse who had driven his pregnant wife to leave town when the fighting first broke out.
According to Davit Sulemanashvili, a Georgian member of the Azov regiment, other physicians have built a makeshift hospital inside the vast Azovstal metallurgical complex after the Russians targeted the city’s hospitals.
The battalion was formed at the beginning of a conflict by far-right militants against pro-Russians in the Donbass before being quickly integrated into the National Guard in 2014.
Daviti says he was treated at this hospital in March after being injured in a tank fire during a street fight in Mariupol.
There his left leg was amputated.
“These conditions are very difficult to treat,” he told AFP by telephone, describing the lack of basic sanitation facilities, medical equipment and heating on the spot.
He was airlifted from Azovstal in a Hollywood-worthy scenario: three Ukrainian helicopters managed to thwart Russian missiles carrying several wounded.
“It was a miracle,” he says. “I only saw it in the movies!”.
last stand of honor
Despite the horrors at the Azovstal site, some people find it unbearable to be outside.
The members of the Azov regiment of the 54-year-old woman Rolana Bondarenko have a dozen friends who still exist. Along with her son, she was one of the first to join the battalion in 2014.
From then on, Rollana learned that her boy had been murdered in mid-April.
“They put her in a black bag and her body is decomposing,” she told AFP over the phone from Germany, where she has been living for a year for medical reasons.
“And it’s not just that that’s the case with him. There are hundreds of them!”.
But even after the loss of her son, Rollana continues to enthusiastically support the remaining Ukrainian fighters, who encounter the firepower of Russian artillery and aircraft in what seems like a last stand.
Every day, she sends text messages embellished with emoticons to boost the morale of soldiers, who, for their part, attempt to spare them their pride and their resilience by exaggerating their suffering.
Some have lost “between 15 and 20 kilos” while there is a severe food shortage, warns Rollana. “I’d like to be by his side for now,” she continues between sobs.
“If I had died there, it would have been with my family.”
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