Inside Azovstal plant, Ukrainian sergeant prays for rescue

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (NYTIMES) – Staff Sergeant Leonid Kuznetsov of the Ukrainian nationwide guard is operating out of time.

He and his comrades holding out within the Azovstal metal manufacturing facility in Mariupol have solely mild weapons – machine weapons, pistols – to defend themselves towards Russian tanks, jets and artillery. They are holed up in a small, reinforced-cement bunker with peeling blue paint on the partitions and about 2m of earth over their heads.

Even if the shelling that has been their fixed companion for weeks comes to finish with Vladimir Putin’s order on Thursday (April 21) to finish the assault on the manufacturing facility, the Russian president’s resolution to blockade the final bastion of Ukrainian resistance “so that no fly can escape” may very well be a demise sentence.

“I’m alive and healthy for now, but the situation is very difficult,” mentioned Kuznetsov, who’s 25. “We’re at the end of our food and water. We have about 1,000 civilians at the factory. I can’t say how many soldiers we have. There are many, many wounded and not enough medicine. The smallest injury can be fatal; there are not even simple bandages.”

The Russian navy’s destruction of Mariupol can be recorded in historical past as one of many singular calamities of Putin’s disastrous battle in Ukraine. A vivacious seaside city of about half one million folks has been turned to a charred and pockmarked hellscape, the our bodies of troopers, civilians and their pets littering the as soon as leafy avenues.

On Thursday, Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, introduced to Putin that the ruined metropolis was now absolutely underneath Russian management, save for the besieged metal plant. There are few buildings left standing and a lot of the metropolis’s residents, those that haven’t been killed in weeks of practically incessant shelling, have fled.

The zone of Ukrainian management in Mariupol has narrowed to suffocating bunkers underneath the metal plant just like the one the place Kuznetsov and his fellow troopers stay, operating out of every part, together with reserves of hope.

“We’re hoping for help,” he mentioned. “If we don’t get it, we won’t make it out of this factory. We will die here with weapons in our hands defending Ukraine.”

Kuznetsov communicated with a reporter by textual content utilizing the chat app Telegram, and despatched a brief video of himself sitting within the bunker with a number of fellow troopers close by. He has an Internet connection due to Starlink, the satellite tv for pc Internet supplier created by Elon Musk.

Kuznetsov selected to hitch the navy after school as a result of he thought that was what a person was speculated to do, his spouse, Maria Kuznetsova, mentioned in an interview. “It’s his character,” she mentioned. “He thinks that a man must serve to protect his family.”

Kuznetsova, 23, mentioned she met her future husband after they have been college students at Mariupol State University. They married a number of years later and now have a one-year-old son named David. Kuznetsov served for three years, then retired in December and filed an utility to develop into a police officer.

Then, on Feb 24, the battle broke out.

Kuznetsova mentioned she repeatedly begged her husband to not rejoin the navy, and initially thought she had talked him out of it.

“It’s difficult to let your beloved man go,” she mentioned. “But every day he talked about it, and then quickly gathered up his things and went.”

Kuznetsov mentioned he was posted to totally different areas within the metropolis earlier than finally being assigned to the Azovstal metal plant. For weeks it served as each a navy base and a refuge for the households of troopers and metal employees, as Ukrainian defenders in different components of the town have been killed or compelled to retreat.

With nobody else left to combat, Russian forces turned their complete may towards the manufacturing facility in latest days, pummelling it day and evening with airstrikes, artillery and rockets.

Kuznetsov mentioned greater than 500 folks have been affected by numerous accidents and there have been many, many lifeless. Numerous folks sheltering inside have been killed by cave-ins attributable to the shelling, he mentioned.

He estimated that he and his fellow troopers might maintain out for one other day, maybe two.

“I ask the whole world to do everything possible to stop the military aggression against independent Ukraine,” he mentioned. “Punish everyone who is responsible for the military action on our territory.”

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