Russia says it already controls the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, located in the Sea of Azov, besieged and bombed for more than a month. The port city, which before the war had 400,000 inhabitantsis now a wasteland where bodies lie among the rubble and some 100,000 civilians try to survive without food or flee when they have the possibility, as happened with a small group this past Wednesday.
Resistance is now limited to Azovstal metallurgical plant. An undetermined number of Ukrainian soldiers (according to Russia, about 2,000) from various units and members of the Azov Battalion, a militia with far-right ideology framed in the Ukrainian Army. According to local authorities and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyon the ground there are also about a thousand civiliansincluding relatives of the defenders.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the plant is blocked and that the rest of the city is calm. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has given orders not to complete the assault on the complex and instead fence it off so “not even a fly can get out.”
This Wednesday, a commander of the marine infantry, Serhiy Volny, released a video in which he assured that they could not resist much longer and that they had “days, or hours” left before giving up, and asked for international help to be able to leave the factory without surrendering to the Russians. Russia has given them several ultimatums to surrender, but they have not.
Despite the defeat, Mariupol and the Azovstal plant have become a symbol of the Ukrainian resistancea, and there are already those who compare it to Stalingrad, although on that occasion the assailants (the Germans) lost, and the Soviet victory meant the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.
Thanks to the resistance in Mariupol, Russia has so far failed to complete its control of the Sea of Azov nor of a land corridor between its territory and the Crimean peninsula, annexed unilaterally in 2014. It has also forced it to concentrate forces in the south instead of using them in its offensive in the east.
Azovstal Steelworks, a fortress within the city
Built in the thirties of the last century by Stalin, the Azovstal plant . One of the commanders of the pro-Russian militias in Donbas has described it as “a fortress within a city”.
“The factory it’s a huge space with so many buildings that the russians just can’t find themOleh Zhdanov, a military analyst from kyiv, told Reuters.It is a huge territory with workshops that cannot be destroyed from the airand that is why the Russians are using heavy bombs,” Sergiy Zgurets, another analyst, explained to the agency.
the complex covers 11 kilometers and is connected to the outside by train. Under the workshops, the foundries and the chimneys there is a labyrinth of tunnels and bunkersbecause the factory was built with its defense in mind.
The deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, Svyatoslav Kalamar, has assured that in several of these bunkers civilians are hidden, about 80-100 people for each.
The presence of the Azov Battalion in the factory is itself another reason why the Russians have made it a target. The destruction of this ultra-nationalist militia would give Vladimir Putin a propaganda trick to justify to the Russians that one of the objectives of the “special operation” in Ukraine is the “denazification” of the country.
One of the largest steel factories in the world
Currently, the factory belongs to the Metinvest groupone of the largest private companies in Ukraine, headed by Yuriy Ryzhenkov and owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetovthe richest man in the country.
Azovstal is the largest Ukrainian metallurgical and one of the largest in the world. Under normal circumstances, it produces 5.7 million tons of iron per year, 6.2 million tons of steel and 4.7 million tons of finished products.
According to its website, it is the only one in Ukraine capable of producing plates thick enough for ships, offshore platforms, special machinery or bridge construction, as well as large-diameter pipes for Arctic oil and gas pipelines.