Heroic last stand of Mariupol as 'bloody battles' rage in steelworks ahead of ceasefire

5 May 2022, 01:43 | Updated: 5 May 2022, 17:21

More than 300 Ukrainian civilians have been evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol
More than 300 Ukrainian civilians have been evacuated from the besieged city of Mariupol. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Heroic Ukrainian soldiers are making their final stand as "bloody battles" continue to rage on in a Mariupol steel plant, despite Russia insisting that it would observe a ceasefire for evacuations.

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Russia is "trying to destroy" remaining soldiers holed up in Ukraine's final stronghold in an all-out effort to take full control of Mariupol, Ukraine's army said.

However, Ukrainian fighters have vowed to keep pushing forward with the battle in spite of the "extremely difficult" conditions.

Azov commander Denis Prokopenko said in a Telegram video message: "There are heavy, bloody battles.

"I am proud of my soldiers for making inhuman efforts to contain the enemy's onslaught.

"I thank the whole world for the tremendous support of the Mariupol garrison. Our soldier deserve it.

"The situation is extremely difficult, but we continue to carry out the order to keep the defence despite everything."

Prokopenko's message followed the restoration of communications overnight, 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.