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Forged in Steel: The Resolute Stand of Mariupol’s Defenders

Azovstal Heroes

Forged in Steel: The Resolute Stand of Mariupol’s Defenders

The battle for Mariupol is a poignant testament to the brutality of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The defenders, comprising Ukrainian soldiers, border guards, policemen, volunteers, and civilians, were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. However, they exhibited remarkable courage and resilience, holding their ground for over 80 days despite facing relentless attacks from the forces of Moscow.

The city of Mariupol quickly fell under Russian encirclement in late February 2022, becoming one of the prime targets of the invaders. This led to a devastating siege, described by the Red Cross as nothing short of “apocalyptic.” The outskirts of Mariupol turned into a somber graveyard as countless lives were lost, and the city’s once-thriving structures lay in ruins, with over 90% of them demolished by the relentless assault. To date, Mariupol remains occupied by Russia.

The last defenders of Mariupol, along with civilians seeking refuge in the Azovstal steelworks, an industrial site with underground tunnels, faced constant shelling and struggled with a lack of water, food, and medicine. Many of them were severely wounded, some with amputations.

Efforts were made by Ukrainian authorities and the international community to find a safe means of evacuating the besieged individuals. Civilians were successfully evacuated from Azovstal in early May, but the defenders of Mariupol remained trapped within the steelworks. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine lauded the Azovstal heroes for accomplishing their combat mission, successfully holding back the Russian offensive for over 80 days. They were given orders to save their lives after completing their primary goal of holding up Russian troops and not allowing them to be redeployed to other key battlefields.

Unfortunately, the captured Ukrainian soldiers endured months of captivity after being evacuated to Russian-controlled territory. Over 2,500 defenders from Azovstal were held captive in Russia since leaving Mariupol. However, there have been significant moments of hope as some have already been able to return home through prisoner exchanges. Notably, the largest exchange occurred in June 2022, releasing 95 individuals, and in September 2022, 215 people were freed, including 188 from Azovstal. But some Azovstal heroes will not return home as they tragically lost their lives in a terrorist attack on Olenivka when Russia launched a missile strike on the isolation ward where Ukrainian military personnel, including the defenders of Azovstal, were located.

The story of the Mariupol defenders is a testament to the unwavering spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people. Their unwavering courage in the face of overwhelming odds serves as an inspiration to us all. May their sacrifices never be forgotten, and may their bravery guide and encourage us as we confront our challenges.

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