Ramping up the Pressure

In a desperate effort to break the last remaining holdouts of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, Russian-backed separatists are dropping bunker-buster bombs on critical targets. As a result, many civilians are seeking underground shelter in these same areas. They are primarily women and children.

Items left behind at the Illich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on April 18, 2022. Image Credit: Alexei Alexandrov/AP

The Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol has a vast network of underground rooms and passages and is home to thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and approximately 1,000 citizens.

Russians are pounding the area with bombs trying desperately to drive them out.

A Deadline Come and Gone

Ukrainian forces were told they had until noon Moscow time (9 am GMT)  Tuesday to lay down their arms if they wanted to live. But, unfortunately, that deadline has come and gone, and all involved must be nervously wondering what happens next.

The Russian Defense Ministry has announced to the holdouts:

“All who lay down their arms are guaranteed to remain alive. Without exception, without any weapons, and without ammunition”.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Russian forces would completely take over the steelworks before the end of today (Tuesday, April 19th, 2022).

In an audio message on his Telegram channel, he proclaimed:

“Today, with the help of the Almighty, we will… take over Azovstal completely.”

Footage of the bombing and scenes of life inside the bunkers. Video courtesy of YouTube and The Telegraph.

Warnings of Possible Chemical Attacks

Azovstal is one of the largest metal-producing factories in Europe. This “fortress city” spans a full four miles along the city’s waterfront.

Oleh Zhdanov, a military analyst based in Kyiv, says, “The Azovstal factory is an enormous space with so many buildings that the Russians… simply can’t find (the Ukrainian forces).”

He chillingly added that the Russians are considering a “chemical attack” to “smoke out” any remaining Ukrainians (military or civilian) seeking shelter in the plant.

Yan Gagin, from the pro-Moscow separatist group Donetsk People’s Republic, said of the complex: “Under the city, there is basically another city.”

Civilians Evacuated From Bombed Out Mariupol Steel Plant

Read Next: Civilians Evacuated From Bombed Out Mariupol Steel Plant

These BETAB-500s are most likely the munitions currently being dropped on the Ukrainians. They were last used by the Russians against ISIS. Image courtesy of Twitter and @Charles_Lister.

The US has chimed in on the matter, with a senior US Defense Department official remarking simply that it “is still contested.”

Ukrainian military forces currently in place at the plant include Marines from the 36th Regiment, elements of a National Guard brigade, and members of the Azov Regiment.

An Appeal to Above

Major Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine brigade, appealed for help in a letter to Pope Francis. In his message, he wrote:

“This is what hell looks like on earth… It’s time (for) help not just by prayers. Save our lives from satanic hands.”

The port city of Mariupol has been one of the most-hit parts of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on February 24. If Russia manages to seize the steel plant, it will mark a significant victory for Russian forces that so far have experienced great humiliation and loss at hands of the Ukrainians. If they manage to capture the entire city, it will provide them with a much-needed land bridge between Russia and Crimea nut not much else as they have all but reduced the city to rubble trying to “de-nazifying” it.