The wives and mothers of Ukraine’s beleaguered Azovstal garrison say their heroic battle is almost over.
A small force of Ukrainians has held against the Russians for 80 days in the vast sprawling Azovstal steelworks but are now, it seems, close to the end.
“My husband is in a real hell,” Natalya Zarytska told Sky News. “He has lost more than 20 kilos in weight. He looks very bad and is in a terrible condition.”
She married Bohdan in April online as the siege went on.
“I think that this is the end,” she said.
“This is his last photo. Here is face is yellow he has lost much weight more than 20 kilos.”
She spoke of the last time she had contact with him a week ago.
“He said that the ring around Azovstal is getting thinner and the end will be soon.”
Asked if she thinks she will see him again she answered: “Yes I hope so. In my mind I think there is no chance but in my heart I feel that we can save them.”
Other key developments:
• President Zelenskyy says talks with Russia on getting wounded defenders out of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were “very complex”
• Russian fighter jets have taken part in Baltic Sea drills, Interfax reported
• Russia says it will take adequate precautionary measures if NATO deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure close to its border
• Ukraine is storing hundreds of dead Russian soldiers in a refrigerated train in order to send them back to their families
• American think tank believes Russia has lost the battle for Ukraine’s second-largest city
Yulia Tarasenko showed a photo of her husband Oleksandr in better times.
They met in 2016 on a checkpoint, both serving in the border guard, and have a three-year-old son.
Her eyes welled with tears as she spoke of her desperation to see him again.
“As every woman would I’m crying I’m missing him so much,” she said. “It’s a big tragedy for me and for my family. We have a great relationship for us it’s such a long time apart. He always texted me, ‘Honey I need to come back to be with you’.”
‘He knows I am waiting for him’
The wives and mothers gathered in Kyiv to appeal through the press to world leaders to intervene and extract the fighters. They urged China’s Xi Jinping, in particular, to lead the way.
Among them Svetlana gave only her first name. Her son is in Azovstal. Against the odds she told me she says she will see him again.
She said: “Of course. I have to see him. He is my son and he needs to come back. He knows I am waiting for him. Of course, no doubt. I have no doubts.”
But the chances of any Ukrainian fighters emerging from the steel works are looking increasingly slim.
Russia has so far turned down all efforts to negotiate safe passage and a way out. Vladimir Putin told his defence minister that not even a fly should be allowed to escape the steel works.
Turkey has offered to receive the fighters if they can be given safe passage but its efforts have been rejected by Moscow.
The Azovstal siege has prevented Russia from being able to claim complete control of Mariupol. Without it, it has been unable to take a single major Ukrainian city by force.
The Ukrainians have used the vast labyrinthine complex to evade capture and defeat despite being outnumbered.
They have held out longer than many had expected but the desperation of their loved ones is a sign their extraordinary battle may soon be coming to an end.