War in Ukraine: In Mariupol, the last Azovstal fighters resist in some way

Extremely rare ammunition and food, extreme living conditions, poor care … The last Ukrainian fighters entrenched in the Azovstal factory in Mariupol are still fighting, in extremely difficult conditions, at a time when the Russian army is tightening its grip on this quest. last pocket of resistance in the port city of southeastern Ukraine, almost entirely under the Russian flag.

On Saturday, Kiev announced that all the women, children and the elderly, the civilians who had holed up with the soldiers, had been evacuated. Raising questions about the fate that now awaits the fighters.

“Many soldiers are in serious condition. They are injured and have no medicine, ”explains Yevguenia Tytarenko, a military nurse, whose husband, a member of the Azov regiment, and her colleagues are still in the factory. “There is also a lack of food and water,” she said, still in contact with her relatives within her. Her husband’s determination is intact. “I will fight until the end”, Mykhaïlo wrote to him via SMS.

“We will go home no matter what, dead or alive”

For several weeks, Mariupol was almost entirely under Russian control. Only the huge steel mills escaped him, which the Russian army was pounding relentlessly, as well as the major attacks on the ground at the origin of violent fighting. “The fighters have already said goodbye to their wives. One of them told his wife Don’t cry, let’s go home whatever happens, dead or alive “Says Yevguenia, 34 years old.

According to her, the possibility of seeing them evacuated is very poor. The nurse describes a chaotic situation inside the factory tunnels, soldiers fighting as they move corpses through the labyrinth of underground tunnels dating back to the Soviet era.

VIDEO. “We lacked food”: in Mariupol, a hundred civilians evacuated from the Azovstal steel mills

The dead were wrapped in plastic bags and rotted from lack of refrigeration systems. There is no doubt for the members of the Azov regiment that these remains fall into the hands of the Russian forces. “Almost everywhere they carry corpses with them,” says Yevgenia.

For her, the Azovstal soldiers “deserve to be evacuated. Those who are alive, wounded and dead. Evgenia fled Mariupol as early as February 24, the city had already been bombed on the first day of the Russian invasion. She had just married two days earlier to Mykhaïlo, also a military nurse, who pushed her pregnant to leave the city from the first fighting.

Hollywood-style escape for Azov Daviti fighter

The Azov regiment was created in 2014 at the start of the conflict against the pro-Russian Donbass by far-right militants before being quickly integrated into the National Guard. Daviti Suleimanashvili, is one of his fighters. His left leg was amputated in the makeshift hospital set up in the factory when he was injured in March by a tank fire during a street fight in Mariupol.

“It is very difficult to cure in these conditions,” he says, describing on the spot the lack of basic sanitation, medical equipment and heating. The fighter was evacuated from Azovstal by air, in a setting worthy of Hollywood: three Ukrainian helicopters managed to counter Russian missiles to transport several wounded. “It was a miracle,” he says. “I had only seen it in the movies! “.

“If I died there, it would be with my family.”

Despite the horror at the Azovstal site, some find it unbearable not to be there. Rolana Bondarenko, 54, has a dozen friends from the Azov regiment there. With her son, she was one of the first to join the battalion in 2014. Since then, Rolana has learned that her son was killed in mid-April. “She has been put in a black bag and her body is rotting,” she told her on the phone from Germany, where she has been living for a year for medical reasons. “And it’s not just him who is in her case. There are hundreds of them!”

Even after the loss of her son, Rolana continues to earnestly support the remaining Ukrainian fighters as they face the firepower of Russian artillery and aircraft, in what appears to be a last stand. Every day she sends text messages embellished with emoticons to raise the morale of the troops, who, for their part, try to spare her by evoking their pride and their resilience.

Some have lost “between 15 and 20 pounds,” while food is severely lacking, Rolana warns. “I wish I was by their side right now,” she adds between sobs. “If I died there, it would be with my family.”

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