The fate of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol rests on the Azovstal Steel Plant – a huge complex spanning four square miles in the southeast corner of the port city.
Ukrainian forces have regrouped around the plant and continue to resist Russian attacks, but a Ukrainian commander described the situation as “critical”.
According to Major Serhii Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade, the steel plant is “completely surrounded”.
“There are around 500 wounded soldiers, it is very difficult to provide them with medical care. They literally rot,” he told CNN on Tuesday.
“There are civilians on the territory. They also suffer from explosions, blasts on them, next to them. They [the Russians] use heavy aerial bombs against us and strike with artillery.”
Officials say hundreds of civilians are sheltering in the basements of the factory – which previously employed 10,000 people – and a Mariupol police official told CNN that food and water supplies are dwindling. amid heavy shelling.
A video shared by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry appears to show dozens of children and families who have been housed there for weeks. CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video or when it was taken. However, after reviewing thousands of photos and videos of the steelworks, the walls of the shelter appear to match the lime-green painted walls of the steelworks basements.
Volyna asked for help from a third country to provide an escape route – by boat or helicopter, for example – to get troops and civilians to safety.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Tuesday that Russian forces were blocking escape routes from Mariupol.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Security Service released an alleged intercept of communications from a Russian ground unit commander, who said Russian planes planned to “level everything to the ground” around the plant.
Mariupol, located in southeastern Ukraine, was heavily targeted by Russian forces during the war due to its strategic position on the coast of the Sea of Azov.
Taking it would allow Russia to create a continuous land bridge from Donbass to Crimea, the peninsula it illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Speaking to CNN last week, Zelensky said no one knows how many civilians died in Mariupol.
“Several thousands, tens of thousands, were forced to evacuate towards the Russian Federation and we don’t know where they are, they left no documentary trace,” he said.
Read more about the Azovstal plant here: