The fate of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol rests on the Azovstal iron and steel plant — a huge compound spanning four square miles in the southeastern corner of the port city.
Ukrainian forces have consolidated around the factory and continue to resist Russian attacks, but a Ukrainian commander has called the situation “critical.”
According to Maj. Serhii Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade, the steel plant is “completely surrounded.”
“There are about 500 wounded military, it is very difficult to provide them with medical care. They literally rot,” he told CNN on Tuesday.
“There are civilians on the territory. They are also suffering from explosions, blasts on them, next to them. They [the Russians] use heavy aircraft bombs against us and strike with artillery.”
Officials say hundreds of civilians are sheltering in the basements of the plant — which previously employed 10,000 people — and a Mariupol police official told CNN that food and water supplies were dwindling amid the heavy bombardment.
A video shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to show dozens of children and families who have been sheltering there for weeks. CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video or when it was taken. However, after reviewing thousands of photos and videos of the steel plant, the walls of the shelter appear to match the lime-green painted walls of the steel plant’s basements.
Volyna called for assistance from a third country to provide an evacuation route — such as by boat or helicopter — to take troops and civilians to safety.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Tuesday that Russian forces are blocking evacuation routes from Mariupol.
Meanwhile, the Security Service of Ukraine released a purported communications intercept of a Russian ground unit commander, who said Russian aircraft were planning to “level everything to the ground” around the factory.
Mariupol, situated in the southeast of Ukraine, has been heavily targeted by Russian forces during the war due to its strategic position on the coast of the Sea of Azov.
Taking it would allow Russia to create a continuous land bridge from Donbas to Crimea, the peninsula it illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Speaking to CNN last week, Zelensky said nobody knows how many civilians have died in Mariupol.
“Several thousand, tens of thousands, were forced to evacuate in the direction of the Russia Federation and we don’t know where they are, they’ve left no document trail,” he said.
Read more about the Azovstal plant here: