Ukrainian Soldiers Are Making a Last Stand in This Vast Steelworks

Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers are hiding underground in the vast steel plant in Mariupol. Russia is blockading it so tightly "that a fly can't get through" as a final battle looms.
Simon Childs
London, GB
Russian soldiers close to the Azovstal frontline. Photo: Maximilian Clarke/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Vladimir Putin has called for troops surrounding Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol to tightly blockade them “so that a fly can’t get through” as Russia declared victory across the rest of the besieged city.

Mariupol in south-eastern Ukraine has been under siege since the 24th of February. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Russian bombardments.

Most of the port city has been taken by Russian forces but there is a pocket of resistance at the steelworks.


Thousands of Ukrainian troops are still holding out in the steelworks, a sprawling complex that spreads over four miles in the south-east of Mariupol. At least a thousand civilians are also believed to be hiding there.

A final battle for the city looms as Russia looks to score a victory before the 9th of May, Victory Day, when the country celebrates its triumph over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Taking Mariupol would be a significant victory for Putin as it would secure a land corridor between Russia and Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

Ukraine says it is ready to send negotiators to the city to secure the evacuation of the remaining troops and civilians. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wants to "save our guys".

Putin’s declaration appeared to be something of a climbdown, after Russian officials had said that they would quickly overrun the complex. On Wednesday, Chechen warlord Ramzan Kardyrov said, “Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation.”

Russian armour gathers for an assault on the Azovstal plant. Photo: Maximilian Clarke/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Russian armour gathers for an assault on the Azovstal plant. Photo: Maximilian Clarke/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Azovstal complex was rebuilt by the Soviets after it was destroyed by the Nazis in the Second World War. The rebuilt plant included many tunnels and bomb shelters designed to be able to withstand a nuclear bomb. Yan Gagin, an adviser to the Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russian breakaway state in the east of Ukraine, told Russian state media that it’s “basically a city under a city”.

This will give the defenders a massive tactical advantage against any assault. Alexander Grinberg, analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said last week that Russians trying to clear the bunkers “can try, but they’ll be slaughtered because the defenders of the tunnel will absolutely have the tactical upper hand.”

In 2014 after the anti-Russia Maidan revolution, steelworkers at the plant joined patrols of the city to remove barriers erected by pro-Russian separatists.