ROME (AFP) – Two Ukrainian women whose husbands are defending a besieged steel mill in the southern city of Mariupol have called for civilians to be evacuated. to also include soldiers, saying they feared the troops would be tortured and killed if Russian forces left them behind and captured them.
“The life of the soldiers is also important. We can only talk about civilians,” said Yulia Fedosyuk, 29, the wife of Arseny Fedosyuk, a member of the Azov Regiment in Mariupol.
She and Katerina Prokopenko, her husband, Azov commander Denis Prokopenko, made their appeal in Rome Friday for international help to evacuate the Azovstal plant, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the now-bombed strategic port city.
An estimated 2,000 Ukrainian gunners and 1,000 civilians are trapped in the factory’s extensive network of underground bunkers, which are capable of withstanding air strikes. But conditions there have become more dire, with food, water and medicine running out, after Russian forces have shot down “bunker-busting missiles” and other munitions in recent days.
The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to arrange the evacuations. From the factory during this week’s meeting in Moscow, with the participation of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the discussions, according to the United Nations, were about civilians, not combatants.
Speaking English, Prokopenko, 27, called for a Dunkirk-style mission, referring to the 1940 World War II naval operation in which hundreds of boats were launched to rescue more than 330,000 British and Allied soldiers surrounded by German forces on the shores of the north. France.
“We can do this extraction … which will save our soldiers, our civilians and our children,” she said. “We need to do this now, because people – every hour, every second – are dying.”
The women said 600 of the soldiers were injured, some with gangrene. Videos and photos they shared with The Associated Press showed men with stained bandages in need of changing; Others had open wounds or had limbs amputated.
The women said the photos were taken sometime in the past week. The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the date and location of the footage.
The men, who have not been identified, say they eat only once a day and share at least 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of water per day between four people. They say supplies inside the besieged factory are running out.
A shirtless man spoke in palpable pain as he described his wounds: two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a dislocated arm that “was hanging over the body.” Another said he stepped on a mine dropped from a helicopter, leaving him with an open fracture of his leg.
A military doctor who appeared in the video identified herself as an anesthesiologist treating the wounded at the Azovstal plant. She said she was working with a small team of doctors “in very difficult conditions, and under constant bombardment.”
“Our resources are very limited. The men are actually dying in front of our eyes because we have no possibility to evacuate them. There is no way to deal with them properly,” she said.
And demanded the evacuation of wounded soldiers and trapped civilians. “We only ask, and we beg, that we give at least the slightest chance of saving these fighters’ lives,” she said.
The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Brigade, formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of the conflict in the east between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists, and which drew criticism for its tactics.
Fedosyuk said she and Prokopenko are seeking help from Europe, the United States and international organizations to find a diplomatic solution to the Azovstal crisis.
She said the troops would never surrender to Russian captivity.
“We don’t know which of the Azov soldiers (returned) alive from the Russian soldiers, since 2014, so they will be tortured and killed,” Fedosyuk said. “We know that for sure, so it’s not an option for them.”
Associated Press contributing writer Nicole Winfield in Rome.
Follow all AP articles on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
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