Latest war news between Russia and Ukraine: Live updates

The footage shows a child wearing a makeshift diaper made of tape and plastic bags and sleeping in a damp and musty room. An elderly woman with a bandaged head is seen dressed in a uniform jacket, once worn by steelworkers, while shaking uncontrollably. And small children come with complaining requests. “We want to go home,” says one girl. “We want to see sunshine.”

These scenes are from videos shared online in recent days by the Azov Regiment, a unit of the Ukrainian military that says they were taken in labyrinth-like bunkers under the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine. Russian soldiers control the rest of the city and fighting continues around the facility. The facility has become the last refuge for thousands of captured Ukrainian warriors and civilians. There is no escape and little chance of rescue.

The independent journalists who portrayed the siege of Mariupol for Western news media traveled a month and a half ago because the security risks were too great. The warring parties have stepped in to fill the void left by first-hand coverage, sharing content from the ground up and, in Azov’s case, asking for help for their hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.

With almost no cell phone service, electricity or internet access, Azov’s videos provide what could be some of the only glimpses of life at the steelworks.

Early Thursday, Azov fighters said Russian forces had bombed a field hospital in the facility, allegedly killing wounded soldiers and burying people in the rubble. Reports of the attack led to renewed calls from Ukrainian officials and UN Secretary-General António Guterres for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians.

The supplies in the plant are said to be extremely low. “It’s not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko told a news conference on Friday.

“If Mariupol is a hell, Azovstal is worse.”

Russia sees the conquest of the port city as crucial to its goal of securing a land bridge along southern Ukraine to connect Crimea with the Donbas, and its forces have relentlessly shelled the facility. The devastation there – city officials have said tens of thousands of residents have been killed – stands as one of the war’s biggest humanitarian crises.

“We are filming these videos to draw attention to the fact that they are at the factory so that the enemy does not say there are no civilians here,” said Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment based at the factory. told The New York Times in a text message.

“So they can be evacuated.”

The Times could not independently verify the exact location of the videos, but the interior appears to be in keeping with the facility’s design, and a former employee familiar with the premises confirmed that the images appeared to have been created there.

Since April 18, Azov has released several videos focusing on civilians who say they are trapped at the facility, and which mainly show women and children. “I want everyone who sees this video to help us create this green corridor, to help us get out of here,” said a mother who held her toddler in a video released on April 24, when Ukraine celebrated Orthodox Easter. “Sure. Alive. The civilians and the soldiers.”

While Azov is a party to the conflict, The Times has previously verified footage released by the group. In the recently shared videos, Azov soldiers hand out treats to children and talk to adults. The relationship between the soldiers and the persons appearing in the camera and the circumstances under which these images were taken are unclear.

Graphic images shared on April 26 on social media accounts related to the regiment showed wounded people lying on stretchers on a concrete floor in what is said to be a field hospital in the steelworks.

Two days later, Azov uploaded a video to his social media channels of what it said were the aftermath of Russian strikes at a field hospital inside Azov’s stable. The footage showed about two dozen people, some of them wearing plaster and bandages, sitting inside a dark, hazy room. A man with a headlight is seen digging through rubble. Another holds a plastic bottle in his shaking hand and sobs.

“The attack was carried out in the area, which contains the severely wounded,” Mikhail Vershinin, head of Donetsk’s regional patrol police, said in a voice memo from the factory. “People are buried under rubble, some are dead. There are wounded – wounded on top of the wounds they already had.”

The Azov Regiment was originally set up in May 2014 as the Azov Battalion, named after the body of water where Mariupol and its now ruined port are, to defend the city when it was attacked by pro-Moscow forces. At the time, it was known for its nationalist, right-wing extremist members, who have been used by the Kremlin to justify its military campaign as having “anti-fascist” goals.

The group’s controversial reputation is holding on, and although it still has some nationalist members, analysts say the unit, now called the Azov Regiment, has evolved since it was incorporated into the regular forces of the Ukrainian military.

Some troops have been inside the factory since March 1, Captain Palamar told The Times.

Maria Zolkina, a Ukrainian political analyst working at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said the regiment’s leadership made a joint decision to publish their prayers for evacuation and withdrawal because they felt they had run out of alternatives.

“They began to be as public as possible when their division in Mariupol was completely surrounded,” she said, noting that they probably felt they no longer had the opportunity to push Russian forces back militarily or had lost hope of successful negotiations. between the two sides.

“The city has been virtually wiped off the planet,” a commander, identified as Serhiy Volyna, said in a video uploaded Wednesday, reportedly inside the factory. In a three-minute prayer, he said more than 600 wounded troops along with “hundreds of civilians and dozens of children” would perish if a humanitarian corridor could not be organized.

“Please save the city of Mariupol,” he pleads. “Please arrange a recovery procedure.”

“People will simply die here,” he added.

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine and Brent McDonald from Washington. Aleksandra Koroleva contributed research from New York.

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