Desperate Putin orders troops to seize Mariupol steelworks for symbolic victory

6 May 2022, 15:10 | Updated: 6 May 2022, 15:44

Putin's desperate attempt to end battle of Maruipol
Putin's desperate attempt to end battle of Maruipol. Picture: Alamy

By Stephen Rigley

Desperate Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to finally seize the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol so he can enjoy a symbolic moment during celebrations next week.

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Heroic Ukrainian defenders have managed to stave off the Russian army for three days despite heavy fighting inside the sprawling industrial complex.

But now, with the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Russia looming, Putin has decided to act.

The date is crucial in Russia because it is when the country marks the surrender of Nazi Germany at the end of the Second World War. Normally Putin takes the opportunity to carry out a chest-beating display of Russian patriotism and military might complete with parades and flag-waving crowds.

The MoD analysis said: "The upcoming 9 May Victory Day commemorations and Putin's desire to have a symbolic success in Ukraine.

"Whilst Ukrainian resistance continues in Azovstal, Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas."

Currently up to 2,000 Ukrainian defenders are holed up alongside hundreds of civilians in the maze of factory buildings, warehouses and nuclear-bomb-proof tunnels which make up the plant's four square miles.

Ukrainian commanders - giving daily updates from inside the plant - say they are continuing to hold the line despite 'bloody fighting' in 'extremely difficult' conditions, and have begged the Russians to call off the assault so that the wounded and civilians can be evacuated.

The Ukrainian's have endured heavy bombardment but have managed to hold firm despite "heavy bloody battles".

Prokopenko's message followed the restoration of communications yesterday, hours after Ukrainian officials warned they had lost contact with soldiers due to heavy bombardment on the plant.

Read more: 'Thermobaric missiles' fired at Mariupol steelworks amid fears for trapped Ukrainians

Read more: Read it in full: Boris Johnson's historic speech to Ukraine Parliament

Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave the update in his evening address.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave the update in his evening address. Picture: Facebook

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that efforts to help civilians escape from the Azovstal plant were being facilitated.

It came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for a prolonged ceasefire to help the 200 people inside, including women and children, to escape.

On Wednesday, more than 300 civilians were evacuated from the besieged city.

Speaking in his evening address, Mr Zelenskyy said 344 people had been evacuated from the city and were heading northwest for Zaporizhzhia, which is controlled by Kyiv.

The evacuation effort included "several dozen civilians" who were previously trapped the Azovstal steel plant.

Russia's military said it would open humanitarian corridors for the next three days, allowing civilians to leave the facility.

Hundred are still believed to be trapped inside the plant, including women and children.

In an online posting, the military said the corridors would be open from 8am to 6pm local time.

Pascal Hundt, Red Cross' head of delegation in Ukraine, said: "We are relieved that more lives have been spared. 

"We welcome the renewed efforts of the parties with regards to safe passage operations.

"They remain crucial and urgent in light of the immense suffering of the civilians."

Women and children are being evacuated to Zaporizhzhia
Women and children are being evacuated to Zaporizhzhia. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile, the UK Government has announced it will be providing £45 million in funding to help the most vulnerable in Ukraine and at its borders.

The money will go to UN agencies and charities delivering aid and supporting survivors of sexual violence in the war-torn nation.

This means the UK's full £220 million humanitarian aid package for Ukraine has now been allocated.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: "Britain has stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine throughout this conflict.

"As one of the largest humanitarian donors we will continue to make sure those bearing the brunt of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's vile war have the lifesaving aid they need.

"British aid is supporting the most vulnerable in Ukraine, particularly women and children, who are facing increased risk of sexual violence and exploitation."

The Azovstal steel plant is Ukraine's final stronghold in Mariupol.
The Azovstal steel plant is Ukraine's final stronghold in Mariupol. Picture: Alamy

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson vowed to "carry on supplying Ukraine, alongside your other friends, with weapons, funding and humanitarian aid" as he addressed the country's parliament.

Nearly 16 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance within Ukraine, according to the UN.

Some seven million are internally displaced, while 5.5 million refugees have spilled into neighbouring countries.