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The battle for the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol continues to rage Thursday as Russian forces look to capture one of the city’s last strongholds for the Ukrainian resistance.
“It’s three days now since Russian troops broke into the territory of Azovstal,” Deputy Commander of Azov regiment Sviatoslav Palamar said Thursday in a Telegram post translated by a Ukrainian news outlet. “Heavy fighting continues to take a bloody toll. Defenders have been taking on the overwhelming forces of the enemy one on one for 71 days.”
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Ukrainian troops and civilians have been holed up in the tunnels underneath the steel plant for weeks, where many fled to shelter from Russia’s constant shelling and bombing campaigns.
Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory over Mariupol despite Moscow’s inability to completely take the city and called on his forces not to invade the plant but to blockade it instead.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on Wednesday reportedly claimed the plant had been securely blockaded and said Russian troops were continuing attempts to persuade the remaining forces to surrender – a move Ukrainian troops have flatly rejected.
But reports of invading Russian ground forces suggest the blockade was not the only step taken by Russian troops.
“We can say that yesterday Russian troops entered the territory of Azovstal. They were driven out by our defenders,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said Thursday.
But Palamar contradicted the adviser’s synopsis of the reality on the ground.
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“No one knocked out anyone, they [the Russians] are at the plant,” he said according to Interfax. “Heavy fighting is going on.”
“The Russians have broken their promise of a cease-fire and did not allow evacuation of the civilians who continue to hide in the plant’s bunkers,” Palamar said.
The deputy commander issued a direct appeal to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to help save the wounded soldiers that have been unable to get medical help through the blockade.
“Make it possible to retrieve the soldiers’ bodies, so that the people of Ukraine can say goodbye to their heroes,” he added. “Respond appropriately to the urgent circumstances in which the enemy flouts all ethical norms, conventions and laws, killing people before the eyes of the whole world.”
Zelenskyy has repeatedly tried to call for a truce with Russian forces to evacuate the roughly 200 civilians and soldiers still trapped inside the tunnels.
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Russia on Thursday denied that its forces have engaged in any ground conflict at the Azovstal steel plant.
“You have seen the president, the commander in chief, give an order to call the operation off. The commander in chief has not issued any other orders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters.