Fierce fighting broke out Tuesday in the largely Russian-controlled southeast city of Mariupol, where for nearly two months some 2,000 Ukrainian Azov fighters and up to hundreds of civilians have been holed up in the gigantic and cavernous Azovstal steel plant, completely surrounded by Russian forces.
After repeatedly demanding the Azov militants lay down their arms and come out, it's believed to be only a matter of time before a final battle, given those trapped inside and underground are said to be running low on food and water, and also crucial ammo.
Ukrainian officials say the site was shelled by Russian forces all night long, with fresh reports from RIA saying that Azov fighters took up firing positions before Russia returned fire. Things had been relatively calm and at a stalemate leading up to this new burst in fighting.
Has the final showdown for Azovstal begun? A Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson described...
“They have left the bunkers and assumed defensive positions on the territory of the plant. Currently, the DPR troops and the Russian armed forces are starting to destroy those positions with artillery and aviation," Astafiev said.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians defending Mariupol steel plant say Russian forces are storming the facility.— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) May 3, 2022
CNN observes that "Video from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol shows thick columns of smoke rising from the area of the Azovstal steel plant amid the sound of heavy explosions."
An commander with the neo-Nazi Azov regiment told CNN, "Since the morning, the enemy has been trying to assault the Azovstal plant with significant forces using armored vehicles. Our soldiers bravely repel all attacks" - and confirmed that Azovstal "is now being assaulted."
The scope and intensity of the heavy fighting at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol was filmed on Saturday, as the remaining Ukrainian soldiers, reportedly hidden inside the plant, were urged to surrender. pic.twitter.com/GW2rjH8eVb— Ines Astaroth (@Inkatonka) May 2, 2022
After multiple agreed-to pauses over the past weeks to allow for evacuation of civilians from the plant, Ukrainian forces say that about 200 civilians remain at the plant, among them some 20 children.
The last major evacuation was Sunday, when about 100 civilians exited the complex under watch of Russian soldiers, in a momentary ceasefire brokered by the UN and Red Cross.
Civilians sheltering at Mariupol's Azovstal steel works emerge from the underground after weeks of terror and suffering, finding the rest of the city in ruins. Kids among the first 100 evacuated by bus, still hundreds to go. From Telegram. pic.twitter.com/sRv4bRPN4P— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) May 1, 2022
Despite what appears to be increasing desperation on the part of the Ukrainian fighters stuck inside and surrounded, the standoff could still last days, or even weeks more, depending on how much in the way of supplies they have, including ammo.
🇺🇦Evacuees from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol "are on the way" toward government-controlled areas away from the most intense combat zones where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting, says the WHO https://t.co/bOeWyyUEkQ pic.twitter.com/UjQwzyc1u4— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) May 3, 2022
The desperation was captured in the following fresh CNN interview:
Fighters inside the besieged plant are “sharing water and food” with civilians – but time is running out, the deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, Svyatoslav Palamar, told CNN on Monday evening.
“We are extremely short on supplies in terms of water and food. I cannot tell you for sure how much is left… but I can assure you that we are saving, very fearful without water and food, and especially ammunition,” Palamar, who is inside the plant, said.
He added: “If (worse) comes to worst and we run out of food, we’ll be catching birds and we’ll be doing everything just to stand firm.”