Beginning of Azovstal’s heroic defense: A look back two years ago

March 20,2024 247
Beginning of Azovstal’s heroic defense: A look back two years ago

These days mark the second anniversary of the heroic defense of the Azovstal steel plant by Ukrainian defenders during the Russian siege of Mariupol. The armed clash, lasting over two months, began on March 18, 2022.

Recalling those tragic events, we honor the memory of the fallen civilians of Mariupol and the brave men and women who, in inhumane conditions, resisted the overwhelmingly powerful enemy, becoming symbols of Ukrainian strength, steel will, and resilience. 

As of March 2, 2022, the Russians completely encircled Mariupol, a city in eastern Ukraine. Azovstal, a massive metallurgical complex on the shores of the Sea of Azov with a complex system of deep underground shelters and communications, was dubbed a city within a city. Ukrainian soldiers transformed the enterprise into a fortress, where hundreds of civilians found refuge.

Fighters from the National Guard, including the Azov Regiment, along with employees of the Security Service of Ukraine, members of the Armed Forces, border guards, police officers, and territorial defense forces, actively defended the plant. They faced daily attacks of Russian troops, who employed aircraft, banned phosphorus shells, artillery fire, and bombs against the plant’s territory. Eventually, these relentless assaults by the occupiers led to the near-total destruction of the facility.

Continuous bombardments by the Russians caused a humanitarian catastrophe at Azovstal. Ukrainian defenders courageously held the defense for 86 days – confined in underground shelters together with civilians, without sufficient food, water, medicine, or weapons. Due to the lack of necessary medical instruments and antibiotics, the wounded fighters were doomed to amputation of injured limbs or death from sepsis.

The defense of the plant has not only become a significant chapter in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, but has also been recognized globally as a remarkable military operation. Experts consider it to represent one of the most substantial defeats in the history of the Russian military.

On May 16, 2022, the defenders of Azovstal and Mariupol executed an order to preserve lives. Fighters were evacuated with subsequent return to Ukrainian-controlled territory through exchange procedures.

The Russians transported the defenders to temporarily occupied territories – some to Novoazovsk, but most of the captives ended up in the Olenivka colony. There, in July 2022, the Russians treacherously staged a terrorist attack, during which at least 50 brave defenders of Azovstal were killed.

Since May 2022, Ukraine has conducted numerous exchanges. However, hundreds of Ukrainian defenders still remain in Russian captivity, including the heroic defenders of Azovstal.

Cover: Dmytro ‘Orest’ Kozatsky/Azov regiment