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Ukrainians in Mariupol’s Steel Plant Are Holding On, a Commander Tells the Times

Ukrainian fighters at the plant say that they hope some neutral country might work to broker a deal that could allow them and the civilians sheltering in the plant to escape, perhaps by sea.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said he had discussed with his soldiers the impossibility of Ukraine’s military swiftly breaking through to their position by attacking from outside the Russian encirclement. There would be no immediate rescue.

“We are not preparing it at this moment,” he told the reporters gathered in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti subway station in Kyiv, the capital. “They clearly understand this. That is the reality.”

In the interview, Captain Palamar indicated that the Ukrainian fighters at the plant were not satisfied with efforts being made to extract them. He called on the military and political leadership of Ukraine “to save the lives of our fighters, who have done so much for this war, who have died heroically, been wounded and held practically the entire southeastern military group.”

“We can’t get out ourselves. Not without help,” he said.

Captain Palamar would not say how many fighters remain alive and in fighting condition, but admitted that more than 500 were wounded, some seriously.

The conditions, particularly for the wounded, are grim. There is a field hospital, but very little medical equipment or medicine remains. Video from inside the hospital that he sent via WhatsApp shows pale, largely motionless soldiers with an array of gruesome injuries sprawled on mats on a concrete floor. Anesthesia drugs are running low and some of the wounded require amputations, Captain Palamar said.

Every day brings new fighting and death, he and others at the plant said. The battle for Azovstal is being waged along a defensive ring on the outer rim of the factory complex, though heavy bombing has slowly reduced the areas from which Ukrainian soldiers can carry out the fight. As Russian forces have used increasingly large and powerful weapons, cave-ins have become a more common cause of death, he said, both to civilians and soldiers.

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