#UKRAINERUSSIAWAR. Azvostal: decisive hours

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The social sphere that monitors the Russian-Ukrainian conflict went to sleep with a news report at 11.23pm on 11 May that the Ukrainians in Azvostal were retreating and that the DPR Interior Ministry’s 5th Ranger Battalion was fighting in Azovstal and advancing.

In the morning, however, the social sphere woke up to the news at around 05.00 on 12 May with a Twitter post in which the commander of the marines of the 36th Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Sergei Volyn, stuck in Azovstal asking world leaders for help after asking the Pope and Elon Musk for help: ‘Presidents, dear diplomats, humanity, if you can save us, do it! All the words have already been said. Every minute is someone’s life! The world must immediately take action!” wrote Volyn.

All this while on live television Aleksey Arestovich, military advisor to the Ukrainian president, claimed that he and his family have been threatened with reprisals by people presenting themselves as wives and relatives of the Azov fighters stranded in Azovstal: ‘For the second day, my wife and I have received threats from people presenting themselves as wives and relatives of the Azov fighters. They say we are threatened with execution. My wife, children and I will be killed. They accuse us of wiping out Azov’. He concluded by saying: ‘The situation around Azovstal has gone out of control’.

The tam tam on the social sphere claims that this news only serves to justify the Ukrainian abandonment of the Azov men, news that contradicts, perhaps, what was reported at 07:00, when Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk wrote: ‘Kiev is offering to exchange Ukrainian soldiers wounded at Azovstal with Russian prisoners of war’. At the same time, images from the Azvostal plant showed a powerful explosion, a sign that shelling was taking place. A British television channel showed the images.

In the meantime, the Mariupol government under the auspices of Donbass on 12 May held a meeting of the workers of the Ilyich plant to find out how many of them were willing to return to work, a sign that the Ukrainian-Russian side (Donbass) expects the industrial zone to start operating soon.

On 12 May, the UN Security Council met on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Irina Vereshchuk told the press: ‘We are not looking for an ideal option, but a functioning one. Negotiations are underway for the evacuation of doctors and injured people from Azovstal, humanitarian corridor coordinator Tatyana Lomakina reported. This is about 500 people. Other residents of Mariupol are also expected to be evacuated. At around 1pm on 12 May it was learned from Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Azov that: ‘There are no more civilians on Azovstal territory’.

But how much longer will it take to know the fate of the Azvostal settlement? According to the ‘Azovites’, there are about 2200 people in the bunkers and they have food for about a week and of poor quality. Above all, there are the wounded who can no longer wait must be evacuated. The Russians meanwhile will wait by attacking with airplanes without risking men. They are used to the war in Syria where they have been present since 2011 and some villages in the hands of Islamist rebels have been surrounded and starved out after months.

What is more worrying is the bombing from the air. According to unofficial information, in one day the Russians were able to drop 40 FAB-500 bombs on Azovstal. According to witnesses, bombs arrived in Azvostal every 36 seconds that day.

The militia are protected and locked in the bombproof basement, double sealed doors in a room with air purification systems, autonomous water supply from a well. Everything is relatively clean, functional and dry. Basically, according to witnesses, the entire Azovstal is divided into dozens of places by two-metre concrete fences. Familiar roads in peacetime are often crossed, so the attackers are opening up new routes through this industrial chaos; for example, through the fences.

The daily battle is between drones and snipers. And by now there are no safe havens for the Azovs who, as soon as they shoot down a quadricopter or a helicopter, see a second drone coming to bomb the sniper. Thus the men of the 5th Battalion in the Donbass have made their way in. Moreover, with no more ammunition and no more food arriving, the fate of the Azovs is sealed. It is unthinkable to evacuate people by sea as the area has been mined by the Ukrainians themselves on the one hand, and is patrolled by the Russians on the other.

The social communication of the commander of the 36th brigade, desperately calling for help, coupled with the communications of fellow soldiers who fear they will suffocate to death, makes it clear that the men are on the threshold of exhaustion and therefore it is to be imagined that total surrender is not many hours away.

Graziella Giangiulio