The mayor of the city of Mariupol on Friday made a desperate appeal to the international community to rescue those still trapped in the steel mill which has become the last bastion of Ukrainian fighters and civilians.
His call came two days after Russian forces reportedly bombed an underground field hospital at the Azovstal factory, where people are sheltering in bunkers.
“If Mariupol is hell, Azovstal is worse,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said during a videolink news conference on Friday. He said there were more than 600 injured – including soldiers and civilians – at the Azovstal compound.
“They have been there for more than 60 days and they are begging to be rescued,” he said, reiterating that supplies of water, medicine and ammunition were running out quickly. “It’s not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours.”
As conditions at the factory worsen, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres visited Kyiv on Thursday to try to establish corridors for civilians to escape from the factory. of Azovstal would be possible. “It’s a top priority,” she said in a Telegram post.
In his ritual evening speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia should “actually do” as it promised and establish a ceasefire in Mariupol that would allow the evacuation.
Previous deals to evacuate civilians en masse or bring lifesaving aid to the city have largely failed, sometimes because Russian units have stopped or fired on aid convoys.
“Moscow claimed to have ceased fire in Mariupol. But the shelling of the city’s defenders continues,” Zelensky said.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces used “bunker-busting” bombs in the attack on the factory that hit the underground field hospital. Ukrainian fighters at the factory posted a video they said showed the hospital being shelled, but it was not possible to independently confirm the time or location.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Thursday night that the attack had killed and injured dozens of already wounded soldiers in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
He reposted video of the fighters on Telegram, which appeared to show the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night’s attack, with bandaged individuals seen on hospital beds, covered in dust and rubble.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin claimed victory in Mariupol last week despite lingering fighting there, publicly calling off an assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the devastated city in a stark display of the Kremlin’s desire to present a success to the Russian audience.
In his address on Friday, Mr. Boychenko, the mayor, accused Russian forces of continuing to indiscriminately bombard civilian infrastructure throughout Mariupol. “The city is destroyed,” he said.
About 20,000 civilians were killed, he said, but denied that the city had been fully conquered. “Mariupol is holding and continues to hold,” he added.