New footage from inside the besieged steelworks in Mariupol shows utter devastation as Ukrainian fighters launch grenades to force back a Russian attack, in the first direct evidence that Moscow is trying to storm the plant.
The Azovstal steelworks has been the sole remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city of Mariupol since Russian forces bombed out the Azov Sea port city into submission and captured it last month.
While all civilians have been evacuated from Azovstal’s sprawling network of underground bunkers earlier this month, several hundred troops from the Azov battalion are still holding fort in what has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance against the Russian invasion.
Moscow’s defence ministry previously said it had no intention of storming Azovstal, one of Europe’s largest steel works with dozens of miles of underground bunkers.
Filmed by a soldier’s body camera, the video released this week showed scenes of utter devastation as Ukrainian troops moved around crumbling buildings on the plant’s grounds, littered with mangled pipes.
Streaks of light from incoming fire were visible in the video filmed by an Azov soldier who was responding to the firing with a hand-held rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Two soldiers were seen shooting rifles at targets in the distance before retreating to safety of one of the plant’s crumbling buildings.
Filmed either at what appeared to be either dawn or dusk, the footage showed constant, heavy gunfire among bombed-out concrete buildings, with electricity pylons looming in the distance.
Drone footage from the end of the clip showed buildings once several storeys high reduced to rubble and surrounded by broken concrete. A fire burned near a broken fence, while rows of delivery lorries and cranes stood abandoned and damaged. The defenders of the plant could be seen from above running from building to building.
Plant defenders 'doing the impossible'
Azov said in a statement on Thursday that the plant’s defenders are “doing the impossible” to stave off Russian attacks even though they were running low on ammunition and supplies.
“In conditions of complete encirclement, despite the extremely difficult situation… fighters of the Azov Regiment continue to knock out the enemy from previously captured positions at the Azovstal plant,” it said.
“The struggle of our soldiers for Ukraine and for the preservation of the lives of personnel continues in spite of everything.”
Wives of two Azov soldiers trapped inside the plant earlier this week pleaded for their husbands’ release at a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome.
In Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said late this week that her team was negotiating for the evacuation of the soldiers from Azovstal, at least starting with those gravely injured.
She said representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross were meeting with Russian officials later this week.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol yesterday / FRI released screenshots from a video showing a group of men near what appears to be the fence of the steelworks.
“Occupying forces, propped by an air cover, are trying to force their way into the plant,” Petro Andryushchenko said.