Vladimir Putin does not intend to conquer the steelworks, but to isolate it so that those housed there surrender or end up succumbing to starvation due to lack of supplies and food

Azovstal, last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol

photo_camera REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Service members of pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administrative building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine 21 April 2022

Mariupol is one of the main objectives that the Russian army is trying to control almost two months after the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory began. Vladimir Putin is seeking to control the Sea of Azov area in order to achieve the necessary step to be able to gather more troops in the eastern region of the Donbas, where attacks have intensified in recent days. 

The great symbol of Ukrainian resistance is now Azovstal, the last point in Mariupol not under Russian control. The steel mill in the Mariupol area remains the great banner of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian attack. Some 2,000 people are holding out in this labyrinth of workshops and passages that the Russian army would not be able to penetrate or attack internally as it is a sure-fire trap in the event of an incursion. 

According to several experts and analysts, the objective of the troops directed from Moscow would not be to take the steelworks, but rather to completely isolate the infrastructure in order to provoke the surrender or the fall of this last redoubt due to the hunger that could prevail in the area given the cut-off of supplies and food due to the difficult situation that is being experienced. The Kremlin estimates that this bastion could fall in three or four days due to the lack of food, water and ammunition that is expected due to the isolation to which the refugees are subjected there. 

Combatientes de la unidad de fuerzas especiales chechenas caminan en un patio durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariúpol, Ucrania 21 de abril de 2022

In addition, according to various reports, there are elderly civilians in need of medicine and 500 combatants with serious wounds requiring surgery.

One of the last resistance fighters in Mariupol said that Azovstal is largely destroyed by the Russian offensive and hundreds of civilians are reportedly trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, as reported by the BBC.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said that "about a thousand civilians, women and children" and "hundreds of wounded" were hiding in the Azovstal complex. 

Este video tomado de una grabación publicada por el Ayuntamiento de Mariúpol el 19 de abril de 2022 muestra nubes de humo sobre la planta siderúrgica de Azovstal y las puertas destruidas del Astillero de Azov, mientras Rusia continúa con su esfuerzo por capturar la ciudad portuaria asediada de Mariúpol

Despite the extremely difficult situation, the troops defending the site continue to repel heavy Russian attacks. Svyatoslav Palamar, captain of the Azov Battalion, gave an indication of the Ukrainian side's intention to continue resisting. "I always say that as long as we are here, Mariupol will remain under Ukrainian control," he said.

As reported by the BBC, Palamar detailed the severity of Russian attacks on the steel plant from warships and by shelling with "bunker-busting" devices.

"All the buildings on the territory of Azovstal are practically destroyed. They drop heavy bombs, bunker-busting bombs that cause great destruction. We have wounded and dead inside the bunkers. Some civilians are trapped under the collapsed buildings," Captain Palamar told the BBC. 

El mapa muestra Mariúpol, Ucrania, y los edificios destruidos o dañados. El mapa también localiza la planta siderúrgica de Azovstal

The Azov Battalion is a neo-Nazi militia to some and a collection of Ukrainian heroes to others. This paramilitary formation remains entrenched in besieged Mariupol and is at the propaganda crossroads between Kiev and Moscow; Russia has already announced that it seeks to "denazify" Ukraine with military intervention in Ukraine and this argument is used by Russian propaganda. 

The Azov regiment was originally a far-right neo-Nazi group that was later incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, as reported by various media outlets. Its fighters along with a brigade of marines, border guards and the police are the last remaining Ukrainian defenders in the port city of Mariupol.

When asked how many Ukrainian defenders remained in Mariupol, Captain Palamar replied that simply "enough to repel the attacks".

Un convoy blindado de tropas prorrusas se mueve a lo largo de una carretera durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariúpol, Ucrania 21 de abril de 2022

According to Ukrainian resisters, civilians are in separate locations from the fighters. They are housed in cellars or bunkers with about 100 people each. Several of these shelters are blocked by large blocks and can only be moved with heavy machinery. 

The situation is grim. "We keep in touch with those civilians who are staying in places we can reach. We know there are small children there as young as three months old," Palamar said. 

The Ukrainian resistance is calling for the civilians to be allowed to leave the steelworks and for foreign powers or international entities to guarantee the safety of the evacuees. "These people have already been through a lot, through war crimes. They don't trust the Russians and they are afraid," said Palamar, who added that they feared torture and murder at the hands of Russian troops or deportation to Russia.

Mariúpol, un puerto estratégico en el mar de Azov, ha sido asediado por las tropas rusas y las fuerzas de las zonas separatistas autoproclamadas en el este de Ucrania durante más de seis semanas

Meanwhile, shelling in the Donbas has resumed in recent hours. The US points out that Russia continues to bring troops into the eastern enclave and humanitarian corridors are not functioning, closing several in Kherson and Mariupol. 

Meanwhile, Chechen fighters allied with Vladimir Putin have appeared to celebrate the capture of Mariupol, aggravating the situation of hundreds of civilians and soldiers resisting the Russian siege in Azovstal.

Mariupol is a devastated area and there is speculation that there are mass graves with up to 9,000 dead, as reported by RTVE. Meanwhile, thousands of people are waiting to be evacuated with a lack of assistance and food. 

Una refugiada ucraniana de la zona de Mariúpol llora después de llegar en un pequeño convoy que cruzó a través de un territorio en poder de las fuerzas rusas, tras la apertura de un corredor humanitario, en un centro de registro para desplazados internos, en medio de la invasión rusa de Ucrania, en Zaporizhzhia, Ucrania 21 de abril de 2022

The Ukrainian side does not trust the surrender in exchange for a safe exit of civilians, because they simply do not trust the Russian authorities. Palamar demanded via Telegram "guarantees" of security from the "civilised world" before leaving, but there is little confidence. 

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of shelling civilian shelters and using weapons banned or restricted under international law, including phosphorous bombs and cluster munitions, in attacks also on Azovstal, as reported by the BBC.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday praised the seizure of Mariupol, a strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine, as a "successful move", but now prefers to encircle the last resistance fighters in the city rather than attack them with a final assault, siege or surrender or, failing that, virtual starvation.