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Life under bombardment: The last stand of Mariupol’s defenders

In Ukraine’s east, several cities face daily bombardment as Russia tries to pound stubborn defenders into submission.

May 9, 2022
By Jon Gambrell and Cara Anna
9 May 2022

Ukrainian fighters in the tunnels underneath Mariupol’s pulverized Azovstal steel plant have held out for weeks against overwhelming odds as Russian troops bombard the facility around the clock.

In an increasingly desperate battle, a determined few continue to offer stubborn resistance with Russia urgently wanting a successful end to the siege to announce an important strategic breakthrough to coincide with the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar – Victory Day on May 9, which celebrates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.

Vehicles are on fire at an oil depot after missiles struck the facility in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Makiivka, 15km east of Donetsk. (AP Photo)
An explosion at a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Some 2000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russia’s most recent estimate, were holed up at Mariupol’s sprawling Azovstal steelworks, the last pocket of resistance in a city largely reduced to rubble over the past two months. A few hundred civilians were also trapped there.

Kateryna Prokopenko, the wife of Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, a leader of the steel plant’s defenders, said that in a call with her husband from inside, he said he would love her forever.

“I am going mad from this. It seemed like words of goodbye,” she said.

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