Ukrainians recount fear in the basement of the Azovstal factory

Natalia Usmanova always felt her heart stop when the Azovstal factory was attacked, even though she took refuge in a fortified underground bunker in what is considered a fortress of Mariupol.

“I was afraid that the underground bunker would not withstand the attacks. I was terrified,” said Natalia Usmanova, 37, one of the Ukrainian civilians who took shelter in the underground bunker of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the southern city of Mariupol. , said today.

She said that each air strike caused the bunker to shake and concrete dust to hang in the air. “I panicked, my husband can confirm it. I was afraid the bunker would collapse,” Usmanova recalls.

Usmanova at a gathering point in Donetsk province, eastern Ukraine, after leaving the Azovstal factory on May 1.  Photo: Reuters.

Usmanova at a gathering point in Donetsk province, eastern Ukraine, after leaving the Azovstal factory on May 1. Image: Reuters.

Usmanova and her husband were among 100 civilians evacuated from the Azovstal factory over the past two days. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Sun,” she said, adding that underground bunkers often lack oxygen and the people inside live in fear. “People couldn’t understand the terror we had to go through.”

The Azovstal plant is the last defensive stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol. This was once one of the largest metallurgical plants in Europe, with a system of solid tunnels crisscrossing underneath, creating ideal hiding and moving conditions for Ukrainian defense forces.

The Russian military estimates that there are about 2,000 gunmen entrenched inside this “underground fortress”, mainly members of the Azov Battalion, an armed force founded by the Ukrainian far-right movement in 2014 and later annexed by the Ukrainian far-right movement. into the National Guard. Russia claims its fighters are responsible for “civilian killings” and sabotage attacks in Mariupol.

Ukrainian officials say about 1,000 civilians are at the factory. Video released by the Azov Battalion on April 23 shows many children looking forward to seeing the sun after nearly two months of sheltering in the basement of the Azovstal factory. Russia has repeatedly accused soldiers of the Azov Battalion of using residents as a shield.

For more than a month, Russian forces besieged Mariupol.  Click on the picture to see details.

For more than a month, Russian forces besieged Mariupol. Click on the picture to see details.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that about 100 civilians had been evacuated from the Azovstal factory thanks to a ceasefire agreed on April 30. The UN said the “operation to establish a safe corridor” here was carried out in coordination between the International Committee of the Red Cross, Russian forces and the Ukrainian army.

Vu Anh (Theo Reuters)

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