Russian forces rained airstrikes on the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the shattered port city of Mariupol on Saturday — as defenders inside the Azovstal steel plant released a heartbreaking video of the women and children they say they are protecting.
“We haven’t seen the sky or the sun” since Feb. 27, says one little girl in the video, the BBC reported — cautioning that her account, and the video itself, could not be verified.
“We want to get out of here very much,” the girl continues, saying that she fled to the plant with her mother and grandmother. “We want it to be safe for us, so no one is hurt, and then live in safety.”
“We’ve been here for two months now and I want to see the sun,” another child, a boy, says.
“We want to see peaceful skies, we want to breathe in fresh air,” a woman says. “You have simply no idea what it means for us to simply eat, drink some sweetened tea.”
The 10-minute clip offers a rare look at conditions within the cinder-block tunnels and bunkers beneath the sprawling Azovstal complex. Children’s jackets and backpacks hang suspended from hooks on the walls, and bath towels can be seen drying on ceiling pipes.
Soldiers from the Azov Regiment– the controversial right-wing militia group that has joined Ukrainian military units to make a stand in the ruined factory — offer fist-bumps as the children gather to greet them.
But overhead, Russian forces resumed airstrikes on the plant and attempted to storm it — in an effort to subdue what the Russians say is the final pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol.
“The enemy is trying to completely suppress resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the area of Azovstal,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, an advisor to Ukraine’s presidential office.
The assault appeared to signal a reversal of Vladimir Putin’s plan, announced Thursday, to blockade the metalworks and starve its occupants into submission.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” the Russian president said in a televised meeting with defense minister Sergei Shoigu in which the two declared victory in the fight over the strategically crucial Azov Sea port.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian plan to evacuate some of the 100,000 civilians who remain in Mariupol’s flattened residential areas was thwarted by Russian interference Saturday.
“About 200 Mariupol residents were going to leave,” according to a tweet issued by the Ukrainian Parliament. “but when they arrived at the assembly point, the Russian military told them to disperse because ‘there will be shelling now.’”
“Once again, the Russians disrupted the evacuation,” Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, said on Telegram. “Brazenly using the efforts of Mariupol residents to return home and the honesty of the Ukrainian army in a ceasefire to organize their own plans.”