‘They’ve never expected Mariupol to resist.’ Large steel plant shielding Ukrainians on Russia’s relentless attack by locals

Lviv, Ukraine – The Few Beyond the Metals industry has heard of Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel and Iron Works before it became the scene of Russia’s invading forces against the last stand.

But for weeks now, the world has been gripped by the war raging over the steelworks on the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov.

Yuriy Ryzhenkov, CEO of Metinvest Holding which owns the plant, is devastated by what he sees happening in the plant and Mariupol.

“The city’s literally under siege for almost two months now. And for the Russians, they don’t allow us to bring food into the city or water into the city,” says Ryzhenkov.

“They’re not going to take us out of the city in a centralized manner. They make people move out of their own automobiles or even walk through the minefields. It’s a humanitarian disaster.”

Asked why Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to take Azovstal so badly, Ryzhenkov tells CNN, “I don’t think it’s the plant that he wants.”

“I think it’s about symbolism that they wanted to conquer Mariupol. They never resisted to Mariupol.”

At least 150 employees have been killed and many remain unaccounted for, he says.

The buildings near the Smoke rises above the Azovstal plant were flattened to the ground in Mariupol on April 18.

“What we know is that out of 11,000 employees at Azovstal,” says Ryzhenkov, “only about 4,500 people got out of Mariupol and got in contact with us so we know their whereabouts.”

Azovstal’s workforce of the fate of the seemingly haunted.

“For the last two months, the whole company tried to do everything possible to get people to safety. Unfortunately, at the moment, we’re still not even half-way there.”

The company’s staff includes family dynasties who have made steel for as long as they can remember.

Ivan Goltvenko, a 38-year-old human resources director at The Plant, is the third generation of his family to work at Azovstal.

“I would have hoped I would have worked for Azovstal all my life and contributed a lot to the fabric and to my city,” he says sadly.

“Seeing your city being destroyed is horrible, you could compare it to a relative dying in your arms … and seeing him or her dying gradually, after organ failure, and you can do nothing.”

From the city of Zaphorizhzhia, he finds it hard to watch the scale of the devastation wrought by the Russian airstrikes “because you want your city to remain the same as it was in your memory.”

News and what’s happening back home is filtering through friends and colleagues who are still trapped in Mariupol.

“Today, for example, I was shown a video of my apartment. The house survived, my flat is completely looted by Russian soldiers. were stolen. ”

Part of a destroyed tank and a burned vehicle are pictured in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol on April 23.

He says he was told by a colleague on April 24 that some residents were confronted with horrors.

“From one of the employees, who has a connection, we know that he is in the city, he did not manage to leave, and he has been involved in debris removal and transporting dead bodies of bodies,” Goltvenko says.

“And yesterday he told me that for one day only one city of the city, I would even say ‘only one street’ from the loaded four trucks of bodies.

“He said: ‘I was drawn to volunteering at the morgue to collect bodies and take them away.'”

“For that,” says Goltvenko, “he receives a dry ration.”

His colleague, 49-year-old Oleksiy Ehorov, deputy head of repairs, has lived in Mariupol since he was a child.

“I studied there, I started working there, I became the person who I am now. And you know how it has been destroyed … You can’t tell. says.

The agony is not over. Putin said last week that the Russian jets and missiles continue to pummel the site, and there was no need to storm the industrial area around the storm.

The defenders of Azovstal have repeatedly given up their weapons. There are a number of soldiers and civilians still in the plant.

Before the war

What has happened is Azovstal is a mirror image of what happened to a city proud of its history and industrial heritage.

The industrial port city was probably never conventionally beautiful, with chimney stacks emitting smoke and steam into the sky. At the port, a bustling shipyard surrounded by heavy items of blue and yellow cranes. But Mariupol had its charm and beloved by its residents.

In recent years, major improvements have been made, green spaces have developed and the quality of life for working-class communities has finally improved.

“We’ve spent the last eight years building a modern and comfortable city … live in a good city,” says Ryzhenkov.

“We’ve completed some major environmental projects, and there are still plans to make sure that we have clean air, that we have clean water and so on and so forth.” “Two months.”

A view of Mariupol & # 39; s port, taken by Mariupol native Maryna Holovnova last June.
Holovnova used to start running tours from Mariupol & # 39; s Theater Square near Old Water Tower.

Maryna Holovnova, 28, says “it’s like a living dream.”

The Mariupol native, a burgeoning social scene with a 10-year absence after 2020. “It’s totally different,” she says on CNN, proudly adding that it was designed by Ukraine’s Cultural Capital last year.

“We had so many festivals and we had so many people coming from other cities and from other countries as well,” she continued. “We’ve got a chance to tell people about the city, not just from the city, but from a cultural point of view.” [and] From the historical point of view – because Mariupol has an amazing history. ”

A beaming smile spreads across her face as she remembers her former city guide on the route she’d take visitors. At the start of it, Mariupol’s century-old Old Water Tower, she says, is home to a number of historic buildings and locations tied to home-grown personalities.

Holovnova says the waterfront metropolis continues to thrive, a sailing tour was launched last year, and plans were made for an industrial-themed excursion complete with a factory tour of the steel production process.

“One of my favorite places, which is weird as locals would understand … from an observation point where you could see the entire Azovstal factory and how big it was, how huge it was, how great it was.” was, “she says. “For locals it was nothing special. We used to get it. But all the foreigners, people from other cities, they were amazed by the view.”

Holonova, a former Mariupol city guide says her favorite spot in the city was Azovstal looking across this viewpoint.

Siege under the City

The Blossoming of Mariupol was an unlikely story, because it was swallowed up by the 20th century. It was the scene of bitter fighting in World War II.

This time, the devastation is even greater. More than 20% of the city’s buildings are unscathed. The Drama Theater once stood where Russia’s merciless bombing campaign has left rubble. Around 300 estimated 1,300 civilians have been killed by a brazen attack in Russia on March 16.

A Man Walks Past the Shell of Mariupol & # 39; s Drama Theater on April 25.

The same applies to Azovstal. Built in 1933 under the Soviet rule, it was partially demolished during the Nazi occupation before the 1940s.

Now it is gone again – its carcass sheltering Ukrainian soldiers and around 1,000 civilians in a maze of underground chambers, according to Ukrainian officials.

The Nazi occupation of the 1940s during the Azovstal was partially demolished.

An estimated 100,000 people remain in the city. On Thursday, local authorities warned that Maripol was vulnerable to epidemics given the appalling sanitary conditions of much of the city and the fact that some of the bodies remain uncollected.

Oleksiy Ehorov can’t bear to think what happened to his city – and his family. His mother-in-law died from injuries sustained from her first attempt at fleeing to Zaporizhzhia.

“My feelings have disappeared already in Mariupol. That’s why there’s nothing but hate,” he tells CNN.

Ehorov says he lived by the sea and had hoped to stay until the steelworks he retired.

Now all he can do is watch the city and his former workplace.

When asked if he was the Russians under the job, he took the factory, he echoes Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and the main shareholder of the group, Azovstal Steel.

“No. I’m not going to. After what they did … never.”

This report from CNN’s Tim Lister contributed to Lviv, Ukraine and Kostan Nechyporenko contributed from Kyiv.

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