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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Defenders of besieged Mariupol plead for help, criticize commandment

by Anna MyroniukApril 11, 2022 11:55 pm
The building in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol is seen shelled by Russian armed forces on March 12, 2022. (Evgeniy Maloletka)

Ukrainian marines defending Mariupol came out with a public statement criticizing President Volodymyr Zelensky and the army command.

The 36th Marine Brigade accused the country’s leadership of abandoning them in the besieged port city with no ammunition left, saying that it might be their last day of fighting.

“For over a month, the marines fought without replenishment of ammunition, without food, without water, drinking from a puddle and dying in batches,” reads the plea published on the brigade’s Facebook page on April 11. 

“The infantry was all killed, and now artillerymen, anti-aircraft gunners, drivers, cooks, and even the orchestra are fighting,” the message reads. “No one wants to talk to us anymore, we are forgotten.”

The message says that the marines are trapped at the Azovmash, a heavy industry plant in Mariupol. The author has likely confused it with Azovstal, another plant, serving as a stronghold for the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

According to the marines, injured soldiers account for nearly half of the brigade.

The Kyiv Independent could not contact the brigade directly to confirm the message posted on their official Facebook page.

The marines’ plea followed another disgruntled address from Mariupol. The day before, on April 10, Deputy Commander of the Azov Regiment Svyatoslav Palamar published a video update effectively saying that the country’s leadership doesn’t speak to them.

“Politicians say they are in touch with us, but in reality no one is picking up the phone for two weeks,” he said. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he has been in touch with the defenders of Mariupol. 

Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi was forced to respond with a short statement on April 11.

“We are doing everything possible and impossible to win and to save the lives of soldiers and civilians (in Mariupol),” wrote Zaluzhnyi. “Military operations shouldn’t be a topic for a public discussion.”

Ukraine’s leadership has repeatedly said that breaking the Russian siege of Mariupol is very hard, and that the focus is on establishing a humanitarian corridor out of the city. On April 10, Zelensky said that tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mariupol. Before the war, the city boasted a population of 450,000 people. Now, according to various estimations, from 120,000 to 160,000 people remain in Mariupol.

Apart from the Russian shelling and bombardment, the city is suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe, having been cut from running water, heating, electricity, and food supply. 

Those who have been able to escape say that the city’s parks turned into cemeteries, and people are buried everywhere. Those who are alive don’t dare to leave bomb shelters as Mariupol is being constantly shelled by Russia. 

Despite the dire situation, the marines’ criticism of the country’s leadership came as a surprise.

Some commentators suggested that the message was from a rogue soldier, and it shouldn’t be treated as an official statement of the entire brigade. 

Later on April 11, the Azov regiment came out with a contrasting statement calling for unity. 

“We believe in the military and political leadership of Ukraine! We continue to fight for the Ukrainian Mariupol,” Deputy Commander of the Azov Regiment Palamar said in the new video on April 11 — the same officer who had said the country’s leadership was ignoring Azov.

Meanwhile, the situation in Mariupol can take a turn to the worse.

On the night of April 11, Azov reported a chemical attack conducted by Russia in Azov.

The regiment said that an unknown substance was distributed by a drone, and that three people who came in contact with it were having trouble breathing.  

If a chemical attack is confirmed, it will be the first known instance of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Just hours earlier, Russian proxies in Donetsk called for the use of chemical weapons against Ukrainian forces defending the city.

Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for Russian-controlled Donetsk proxies, said that it made no sense to storm the well-fortified Ukrainian-controlled Azovstal plant in Mariupol because Russian troops would suffer heavy casualties, and instead Russian “chemical forces” should “smoke them out.” 

Anna Myroniuk
Anna Myroniuk
Head of investigations

Anna Myroniuk is the head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent. Anna has run investigative projects on human rights, healthcare and illicit trade. She investigated presidents and oligarchs. She has written for New York Times, Washington Post, Coda Story and OCCRP. Anna holds a Masters in Investigative Journalism from the City University of London. She is a Chevening Scholar, a finalist of the 2020 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, an honoree of the 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Media & Marketing list, the runner-up in the investigative reporting category of the 2022 European Press Prize, and the finalist of the 2022 National Investigative Journalism Award of Ukraine.

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