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

4 May 2022, 15:33 | Updated: 4 May 2022, 18:34

Russia has resumed attacks on the City of Mariupol
Russia has resumed attacks on the City of Mariupol. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Communication has been lost with the last remaining Ukrainians trapped inside Azovstal steel works in the city of Mariupol, after Russian footage shows missiles devastating the plant.

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A video, posted by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, shows what appears to be thermobaric missiles- which can vaporise human bodies- being launched at the plant.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that there is no way of knowing “what's going on, whether they are safe or not” as Russia continues to storm the steel mill.

Russia resumed attacks on the City of Mariupol after scores of civilians reached relative safety after an evacuation, but 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remain trapped inside.

Ukrainian officials and the United Nations say they hope to arrange more evacuations from the bombed-out steel mill after 101 civilians - including women, the elderly, and 17 children, the youngest six months old - were rescued over the weekend.

But after scores of evacuees savoured hot food, clean clothing and other comforts that were denied to them while underground, Russian forces on Tuesday began storming the plant, where some Ukrainian fighters were still holed up.

Ukrainian commanders said Russian forces backed by tanks began storming the sprawling plant, which includes a maze of tunnels and bunkers spread out over four square miles.

It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded.

A few hundred civilians also remained there, Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

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"We'll do everything that's possible to repel the assault, but we're calling for urgent measures to evacuate the civilians that remain inside the plant and to bring them out safely," Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine's Azov Regiment, said on the messaging app Telegram.

He added that throughout the night, the plant was hit with naval artillery fire and airstrikes.

Two civilian women were killed and 10 civilians wounded, he said.

Ms Lubrani expressed hope for further evacuations but said none had been worked out.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that by storming the steel mill, Russian forces violated agreements for safe evacuations.

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Evacuation of people from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia
Evacuation of people from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Picture: Getty

He said the prior evacuations are "not a victory yet, but it's already a result. I believe there's still a chance to save other people."

The assault on the Azovstal steelworks began almost two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military not to storm the plant to finish off the defenders but to seal it off.

The first - and so far only - civilians to be evacuated from the shattered plant got out during a brief cease-fire in an operation overseen by the UN and the Red Cross.

According to those rescued, about 30 people who left the plant decided to stay behind in Mariupol to try to find out whether their loved ones were alive.

Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine said the rescued people had emerged from the bunkers under the Azovstal steelworks to "see the daylight after two months".

Whilst 54-year-old Elina Tsybulchenko said: "You can't imagine how scary it is when you sit in the bomb shelter, in a damp and wet basement, and it is bouncing and shaking."

She said if the shelter was hit by a bomb like the ones that left the huge craters she saw on the two occasions she ventured outside, "all of us would be done".

Communication has been lost with the last Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol
Communication has been lost with the last Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol. Picture: DPR

It comes after the Associated Press revealed the Russian bombing of a theatre in Mariupol was far deadlier than estimated, killing closer to 600 people inside and outside the building.

That's almost double the death toll cited so far - and many survivors say the number is even higher.

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In other battlefield developments, Russian troops shelled a chemical plant in the eastern city of Avdiivka, killing at least 10 people, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

"The Russians knew exactly where to aim - the workers just finished their shift and were waiting for a bus at a bus stop to take them home," Mr Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post. "Another cynical crime by Russians on our land."

Explosions were also heard in Lviv, in western Ukraine, near the Polish border.

The strikes damaged three power substations, knocking out electricity in parts of the city and disrupting the water supply, and wounded two people, the mayor said.

Lviv has been a gateway for Nato-supplied weapons and a haven for those fleeing the fighting in the east.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft and artillery hit hundreds of targets in the past day, including troop strongholds, command posts, artillery positions, fuel and ammunition depots and radar equipment.

Ukrainian authorities said the Russians also attacked at least a half-dozen railroad stations around the country.