Putin must and will have the Azovstal factory

“Seal it so no more flies can escape,” Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered this week. He referred to the factory complex in Azovstal, until recently one of the largest steel producers in Europe. Ukrainian soldiers have entrenched themselves in the rooms below the complex. It’s very similar to a kamikaze action. Defense editor Eric Vrijsen about the meaning of the seemingly hopeless resistance.

The port city of Mariupol is in ruins. It has become uninhabitable for the half a million residents who had a home until recently. Their pride, the steelworks, has been destroyed. Ukraine was the model state of the then Soviet Union because it supplied the rest of the communist utopia with grain, airplanes, and steel. The factory in Mariupol dates back to the Stalin years, but was destroyed in World War II and then rebuilt.

In the 1950s, an extensive system of shelters for air raids and a system of corridors under the factory complex were also built. Because of the nuclear threat, people had to be able to seek refuge for a long time deep underground. Therefore, food supplies, water supplies and telephone connections between the corridors and the shafts were also considered.

Azov Battalion: A tough, far-right civilian militia

The underground labyrinth now houses Ukrainian Marines and members of the Azov Battalion. The latter unit originated from a far-right civilian militia with a very dubious reputation, but has been one of the toughest parts of the Ukrainian armed forces since the Russian invasion on 24 February. As long as the Marines and the Azov Battalion hold out in the basements of the steelworks, Russia can not claim that the port city has fallen, and that has great symbolic significance.

The struggle for the steel mill here illustrates the irreconcilability of the Ukrainians. Local commanders always ensure that they face a Russian supremacy, but that they will never ever capitulate.

On April 19, Major Sirky Volyna, Chief of the 36thste Marine Brigade, a video message to the world that provided evidence of both the hopeless struggle and the steadfastness of the Ukrainian Marines.

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Video message was to encourage Russians to an ill-considered attack

Time and time again, local commanders spread such messages through social media. Their last hour has come, but they do not give up. This message apparently aims to incite the insecure Russians to an ill-considered attack. If the Russians are eager to give their enemies the final blow, the Ukrainians will fight back hard from an unexpected team. Somewhere among the twisted remains of the steelworks lies a sniper or a soldier with a grenade launcher.

The Russians have shelled and bombed the complex so heavily that it is no longer recognizable from previous maps, complicating the planning of their military operations. It is a scene of hit-and-run actions by the Ukrainians and the Russians themselves have taken care of it.

There must be horrible scenes there. Ukrainians defend the complex as the Marine Corps defended Maasbruggen in Rotterdam against the Germans in May 1940: meter by meter. Messages now penetrating from Mariupol to the outside world evoke images Enemy at the gates, Enemy at the Gates, a 2001 film about snipers in the ruins of Stalingrad during a decisive battle in World War II.

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