A commander inside the Azovstal steel complex in the besieged city of Mariupol told CNN of the relentless bombardment of the plant, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been trapped for weeks.
Sviatoslav Palamar of the Azov Regiment told CNN that there was intensive shelling of the Azovstal plant last night from both ships and aircraft.
“At the same time they shell us from the ground,” he said. There had also been attempts to storm the area controlled by Ukrainian troops, he said, but they had been deflected.
“On one side, the (Russians) had declared the silence and non-fighting mode, but on the parallel (at the same time) with infantry and equipment they try to storm the territory of the factory,” he told CNN.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his defense minister in Moscow that the plant should be sealed off but not stormed and said that those who choose to surrender should be treated in accordance with international conventions.
Palamar told CNN that there were a lot of wounded fighters and more than 500 soldiers who needed guarantees that their lives would be saved.
“We also have civilians that will be killed if they storm the factory,” he said.
Palamar said that on Thursday morning, a shelter for the wounded at the plant was shelled.
“It’s very hard to provide medical help to our guys, because our surgical room was destroyed where the remaining medicine and surgical equipment was stored,” he told CNN.
Asked if the Ukrainian troops left inside Azovstal were ready to surrender, Palamar said: “We do not think about any scenarios of giving up. We only see it possible through a guarantee of third party politicians, leaders, possibly the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel or Turkey, a guarantee that would allow every soldier to leave in safety.”
“We are ready to leave this territory because it is very hard and complicated to hold here with our personal weapons. We’re ready for extraction, possibly extraction to the territory of a third country but with our weapons in our hands,” he continued.
On the situation inside the plant: Palamar told CNN that there was not much food and water left for the plant’s defenders. He said they had a limited amount of ammunition. “We don’t have the possibility to destroy the aircraft and vessels that are shelling us,” he said.
Even so, he insisted: “We do not consider giving up or the conditions of giving up. We only consider guarantees of leaving the territory of the plant. If there is no other choice left but giving up, we won’t give up.”
Palamar stressed that the soldiers in the plant wanted civilians who were sheltering there to be evacuated.
“We asked for evacuation of the civilians. We’re talking to the whole world since March that international politicians or organization guarantee the safe extraction of civilians to Ukrainian territory. So if being asked whether we are ready for civilians to leave from here, we are not only ready but we ask that the civilians are saved first of all,” he told CNN.
Speaking about the Ukrainian government’s plan to evacuate civilians stranded in the plant, which was due to go into effect Friday, Palamar said he was aware of such a convoy that would come to Mariupol but could not speak further about it for security reasons.
“We count on the Red Cross and the organizations that are heading here to take our heavily wounded first of all, because they need to be treated, they need to get help,” he said.
Palamar said that the soldiers and civilians were in separate parts of the Azovstal plant. They were in cellars and bunkers but some had been wounded.
“There are cellars and bunkers that we cannot reach because they are under rubble. We do not know whether the people there are alive or not. There are children aged four months to 16 years. But there are people trapped in places that you can’t get to,” he told CNN.