A Ukrainian commander holed up in Mariupol said early Wednesday that his men might only have a few hours left before Russian troops take control of the besieged city.
“This is our last address to the world. It may be our last one ever. It is possible that we have just days or hours left,” marine Major Serhiy Volyna said in a chilling video message, the BBC reported.
He said his troops would not surrender but pleaded for international aid for the 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of women and children hunkering down inside a steel plant.
“We call on world leaders to help us. We urge them to organize an extraction to take us to a third country,” Volyna said from the massive Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant.
“The units of the enemy exceed ours dozens of times, they prevail in the air, in artillery, in ground troops, and in machines and tanks,” added the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade.
Volnya said the wounded “are in a basement — they are just rotting there.”
The dire message comes as Russia gave Ukrainian forces a fresh ultimatum to lay down their weapons in the strategic port city.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC he believed up to 20,000 people may have been killed in Mariupol.
Some 130,000 citizens who have been blockaded in the city for 50 days are struggling to find food, water and medicine, the city’s deputy mayor says.
He said he hoped a preliminary agreement with Russia on establishing a safe corridor would be confirmed and respected.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko said on national TV that Ukraine hopes to send 90 buses to evacuate about 6,000 women, children and elderly people from Mariupol.
“Do not be afraid and evacuate to Zaporizhzhia where you will get all necessary aid — food, medicines, basic essentials. But the main thing — you will be safe,” Boychenko said on Telegram, referring to the Ukrainian-held city.
“Already 200,000 Mariupol residents were able to leave the city. Today, these people are safe. Dear residents of Mariupol, Ukraine is waiting for you,” he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told civilians to gather at 2 p.m. local time for the evacuations, but warned that “with regard to the very difficult security situation, changes may occur during the corridor,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Thousands of Russian forces backed by artillery and rocket strikes were attempting to advance in what Ukrainian officials have called the Battle of the Donbas — a final push by Moscow to seize two eastern provinces it claims on behalf of separatists.
Since the nearly eight-week-long war’s first days, Russia has been trying to take full control of Mariupol, whose capture would be a big strategic prize — linking territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.