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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Ukraine war: Russians ‘storm’ Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as civilians remain trapped

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ussia stepped up its attack on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol on Tuesday after a ceasefire broke down with civilians still trapped inside, Ukraine said.

Sviatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment that is holed up in the steelworks, confirmed that Vladimir Putin’s forces had attempted to break into the facility and overwhelm Ukrainian forces on Tuesday. There were also reports of missile strikes and shelling on the facility.

Denys Shlega, a commander of a brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard also at Azovstal, also said “the enemy is trying to storm the Azovstal plant with significant forces using armored vehicles”. The Standard could not independently verify the claim.

Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk told reporters earlier on Tuesday that a few hundred civilians remained at the plant despite extensive evacuation efforts. Over 100 civilians managed to flee the besieged city on Sunday after weeks of brutal shelling by Russian forces.

Despite the partial evacuation, officials from the Azov Battalion claimed the bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks resumed shortly after some managed to escape.

Their claim appeared to be backed up by pictures showing huge plumes of black smoke rising from the plant on Monday.

The evacuation was overseen by the United Nations and the Red Cross but it is thought as many as 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 1,000 civilians had been taking shelter at the plant.

However, it is thought 100,000 people remain in the wider city which has seen some of the most intense fighting since the 10-week war began.

People disembark a van to be registered by police after arriving at an evacuation point in Zaporizhzhia for people fleeing Mariupol

/ Getty Images

The first batch of civilians rescued from Mariupol arrived in Zaporizhzhia despite being hit by delays due to poor road conditions and Russian checkpoints in the region.

“We had said goodbye to life, we didn’t think anyone knew we were there,” said Valentina Sytnykova, 70, who said she sheltered in the plant for two months with her son and 10-year-old granddaughter.

The UN confirmed the “successful evacuation” of 101 civilians in a five-day operation. “Women, men, children and older persons could finally leave the bunkers below the steelworks and see the daylight after two months,” said Osnat Lubrani, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.

Food, water and medicine supplies are running low in Mariupol due to the Russian invasion with Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk adding: “The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ukrainian officials have also claimed enemy troops have taken fleeing civilians to Russian held towns, although the Kremlin has denied the claim.

Natalya Tsyntomirska, who managed to escape the city, said: “The whole time, we were shelled with mines, and then air strikes started. Our house is completely destroyed.”

The Azovstal plant is surrounded by water on three sides and has an extensive underground network of tunnels, which has prevented Russian troops from completing their capture of the important southern Ukrainian city.

It came as missile strikes were reported on the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Tuesday evening. Andriy Sadoviy said late on Tuesday that air strikes had damaged power stations, cutting off electricity in some districts.

At least 10 people were killed earlier on Tuesday and 15 wounded by Russian shelling of a coking plant in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, the regional governor said.

The Ukrainian president’s office said other areas of Donetsk were under constant fire.

Russia also struck a military airfield near the southwestern city of Odesa with missiles, destroying drones, missiles and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the United States and its European allies, the defence ministry said.

Boris Johnson also addressed the Ukraine Parliament, hailing Ukraine for the “greatest feat of arms of the 21st century” by forcing the Russian army to retreat from “the gates of Kyiv“..

As of May 2, the UN claims 3,153 civilians have been killed since the war began, including 72 children.

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