A video has emerged from inside the besieged Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol showing women and children who say they are “running out of strength” and need to be urgently evacuated to Ukrainian-controlled territory.
The film was recorded on Thursday. The women say 15 children are living in tunnels beneath the plant, ranging in ages from babies to teenagers. They are trapped together with their families and other civilians, including factory workers.
The video shows several children, one apparently doing homework in a colouring book, surrounded by clothes and makeshift beds. A boy says he is desperate to see sunlight again and to breath fresh air outside after weeks living in a dungeon.
An unnamed woman says she has spent 50 days underground, since 25 February, the second day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Others say they took refuge in the plant in early March, as Russian forces pounded their apartments with artillery and airstrikes.
Food and water are almost finished, the woman said, with people “on the edge of hunger”. “All the provisions we brought with us are running out. Soon we won’t even have enough food for the children.”
She added: “We are here and need help. We are at the epicentre of events and we can’t get out. My child needs to be evacuated to a peaceful area and others too. We beg for guarantees of safety for our kids.”
The woman continued: “We worry for the lives of our children and [elderly] parents who require medical care. They are running out of strength and life power. There isn’t a single day without shelling. They are scared even to go to the toilet.”
The Ukrainian government has been trying to establish a humanitarian corridor which would allow civilians inside the plant to safely exit. The sprawling factory is a base for Ukraine’s Azov battalion, a part of the national guard, which shot the video.
Under cover of darkness, Ukrainian forces managed to deliver weapons to the encircled soldiers via helicopter, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the national security and defence council said, adding: “We have a difficult situation, but our army is defending our state”.
About 80 civilians escaped from Mariupol on Wednesday in four buses. Ukraine says subsequent attempts have failed because Russian troops keep shelling the meeting place. They add that Moscow has forcibly removed 40,000 residents to Russian territory.
On Thursday, Putin declared victory in Mariupol. He said his forces, which control the rest of the city and have hoisted a flag on the TV tower, would not seek to enter the plant. They would instead seal it off so “not even a fly could escape”, he told his defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
In reality, Moscow has resumed airstrikes and is trying to storm the steelworks, Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Saturday. He told national TV: “The enemy is trying to strangle the final resistance of the defenders of Mariupol in the Azovstal area”.
Russian units continue to hide evidence of their crimes by removing bodies from the city’s rubble, Ukrainian officials said. Satellite images show two new mass graves next to an existing cemetery in the village of Manhush, 15km west of Mariupol. Between 3,000 and 9,000 civilians are buried there, they suggest.
Victims include civilians killed on 16 March when a Russian war plane flattened the city’s drama theatre. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zekenskiy, has said 300 people died in the strike. The theatre was being used as a shelter by about 1,500 woman and children.
Since failing to capture Kyiv, the Kremlin has amended its war plan. The current goal is to “liberate” the eastern Donbas region. On Friday, a Russian general said a second objective was to create a land corridor linking the separatist so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics with Crimea and the breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova.
In its latest intelligence update, the UK Ministry of Defence said Russian tactical battalion groups which have massed in and around the Donbas had made “no major gains in the last 24 hours”. “Ukrainian counterattacks continue to hinder the efforts,” it said.
Further north, the Ukrainian army clawed back some territory. It liberated three villages around the city of Kharkiv, according to regional governor Oleh Synehubov. Troops had secured positions in Bezruky, Slatine and Prudianka villages, he said.
Ukraine’s general staff said it had repelled eight Russian attacks, destroying nine tanks, 18 armoured units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems. “Units of Russian occupiers are regrouping. The enemy continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure,” it said.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Saturday that two people were killed by Russian shelling in the city of Popasna. He said an evacuation train for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas was expected from the eastern city of Pokrovsk bound for the western city of Chop, near Ukraine’s border with Slovakia and Hungary.
“In addition to the fact that street fighting continues in the city for several weeks, the Russian army constantly fires at multi-storey residential buildings and private houses,” Haidai wrote on the messaging app Instagram.
“Just yesterday, local residents withstood five enemy artillery attacks. Not all survived.”