ROME ( Associated Press) – Two Ukrainian women whose husbands are defending a besieged steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol are calling for civilians to be evacuated by any means necessary. To include soldiers as well, saying that he feared he would be tortured and killed if the soldiers were left behind and captured by Russian forces.
“The lives of soldiers also matter. We can’t just talk about civilians, ”said 29-year-old Yulia Fedusyuk, wife of Arseny Fedusyuk, a member of the Azov regiment in Mariupol. “We’re hoping we can save the soldiers too, not just the dead, not only the wounded, but all of them.”
She and Katerina Prokopenko, whose husband, Denis Prokopenko, is the Azov commander, appealed on Friday for international aid to evacuate the Azovstal plant in Rome, the strategic and now the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the bombed port city.
An estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders and 1,000 civilians are hiding in the plant’s vast underground network of bunkers, capable of withstanding airstrikes. But after the Russian military dropped “bunk busters” and other weapons in recent days, with food, water and medicine running out, conditions there have become even more dire.
UN says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed on evacuation arrangements From the plant during a meeting this week in Moscow with the International Committee of the United Nations and the Red Cross. But civilians, not fighters, belong to the United Nations as discussed.
Speaking in English, 27-year-old Prokopenko called for a Dunkirk-style mission, a reference to a World War II maritime campaign, launched to rescue British and Allied forces surrounded by German forces in northern France.
“We can do this extraction operation … that will save our soldiers, our civilians, our children,” she said. “We need to do it now, because people – every hour, every second – are dying.”
The women said 600 soldiers suffering from gangrene were injured. They provided horrific videos and photos sent by their husbands of men with amputated limbs, bullet wounds and other injuries. He said that people are eating porridge, old paneer and radish roti.
The Azov Regiment has its roots in the Azov Battalion, which was formed in 2014 by far-right activists at the start of a conflict in the east between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists, and which has drawn criticism for its tactics.
Fedusiuk said he and Prokopenko were seeking help from Europe, the United States and international organizations to find a diplomatic solution to the Azhovestal standoff.
And he said the troops would never surrender to Russian occupation.
“We don’t know any Azov soldiers who came alive (back) from Russian troops since 2014, so they will be tortured and killed,” Fedusyuk said. “We know that for sure, so it’s not an option for them.”
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.