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Defenders inside Ukrainian steel mill refuse to surrender

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian fighters battling Russian forces in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s immense steel plant refused to surrender in the face of relentless attacks, with the wife of one commander saying they had vowed to “stand till the end”.

The fight in the last Ukrainian stronghold of the strategic port city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught appeared increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to present a battlefield triumph – or announce an escalation of the war – in time for Victory Day next Monday.

“They won’t surrender,” Kateryna Prokopenko said on Thursday after speaking by phone to her husband, a leader of the steel plant defenders. “They only hope for a miracle.”

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said yesterday that “the blockade of units of the defence forces in the Azovstal area continues” and that the Russians, with aviation support, had resumed assault operations to take control of the sprawling plant.

Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russia’s most recent estimate, were holed up in a maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal steelworks. A few hundred civilians were also believed trapped there.

“There are many wounded (fighters), but they are not surrendering,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“They are holding their positions. Just imagine this chaos! And there are children there,” he said.

“More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”

The Russians managed to get inside the plant on Wednesday with the help of an electrician who knew the layout, said adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry Anton Gerashchenko.

A family evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal plant arrives at a registration and processing area for internally displaced people in Zaporizhzhia. PHOTO: AFP
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