Kyiv calls for negotiations to evacuate troops, civilians from Azovstal steel plant

Children sheltering in the underground bunkers at the Azostal steel plant in Mariupol. Credit: General Staff of Armed Forces of Ukraine | YouTube / Facebook

After Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender or die on Wednesday, the government in Kyiv has proposed talks with Moscow to evacuate their troops and civilians from the surrounded steelworks factory.

The move comes after a Ukrainian marine commander, Serhiy Volny, made a desperate plea to world leaders, asking them to help evacuate his troops and the civilians who’ve been sheltering with them. He said the Ukrainian forces, many of whom are from the Azov battalion, are facing their last day or even hours…

“We might be facing our last days, if not hours… The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to 1… We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us.”

The huge industrial complex is the last stronghold in the besieged port city of Mariupol, and has become the target on ceaseless Russian shelling, including bunker busting bombs. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated 1,000 civilians have been sheltering in the plant’s underground network of tunnels and bomb shelters. Regarding the evacuation of the steelworks plant, negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted…

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“Yes. Without any conditions. We’re ready to hold a ‘special round of negotiations’ right in Mariupol. One on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living & the wounded. Everyone. Because they are ours. Because they are in my heart. Forever”

Meanwhile, according to David Arakhamia, a second negotiator…

“Today, in a conversation with the city defenders, a proposal was put forward to hold direct negotiations, on site, on the evacuation of our military garrison. For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side.”

On Wednesday, a small convoy of buses filled with a few dozen civilians were able to escape the port city, according to Reuters. The number was far fewer than officials had hoped for. They estimate more than a thousand civilians have been sheltering in the underground bunkers of the Azovstal steel plant, where they’ve been unable to escape and are running critically low on supplies.

Mariupol has been under constant bombardment by Russian forces since their invasion began on February 24. Control of the city would provide Russia with a strategic land bridge, connecting the Donbas region in western Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula, as well as give Moscow control of a key seaport.

Officials estimate that more than 20,000 people — or 5% of the population — have been killed in the once bustling port city in southeastern Ukraine, which was home to some 400,000 people before war broke out eight weeks ago today.

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Jay Shine

A longtime expat in Asia with a degree in journalism and creative writing. Highlights include writing for Condé Nast Traveller and Apple Music. In his spare time, Jay enjoys writing poetry, brewing traditional Chinese tea and lounging with his calico soi cat, Almond.

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