‘Don’t let them die’: Wives of last remaining Azovstal fighters plead with Pope Francis for help

‘Don’t let them die,’ the women said pleading with the Pope for support

Thomas Kingsley
Wednesday 11 May 2022 22:26 BST
Wives of remaining Azov fighters plead with Pope Francis for help

The wives of two of the last remaining Ukrainian fighters holed up in Mariupol's steelworks asked Pope Francis on Wednesday to help get soldiers evacuated from the plant.

Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, and Yuliya Fedosiuk, 29, spoke to the pontiff for about five minutes at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square, also asking him to intervene directly with President Vladimir Putin to let them go because "Russian captivity is not an option".

Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov, has endured the most destructive fighting of the war in Ukraine. Kyiv says it is likely that tens of thousands of people have been killed there since Russia's invasion began and the Azovstal steel plant is the last part of the city still held by Ukrainian fighters.

“You are our last hope, I hope you can save their lives, please don't let them die,” Kateryna could be heard telling the pope on a video released by the Vatican.

The family members pleaded with the Pope to speak with Vladimir Putin
The family members pleaded with the Pope to speak with Vladimir Putin (REUTERS)

The women told reporters afterward that they described to the pope scenes of injured soldiers, rotting flesh, unburied bodies and lack of food, water and medicine at the steelworks. They said they last spoke to their husbands, members of the Azov Regiment, on Tuesday.

“Our soldiers are waiting to be evacuated to a third country, to lay down their arms in case of evacuation," Yuliya said. “Russian captivity is not an option for them,” Kateryna added.

The pope said he would do everything possible and would pray for them. The wives said they asked Pope Francis to come to Ukraine and to talk with President Putin.

Scores of civilians have been evacuated from the steelworks in recent days, but an aide to Mariupol's mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, said at least 100 still remained inside. Pope Francis said in an interview published on 3 May that he asked for a meeting in Moscow with Putin to try to stop the war in Ukraine but had not received a reply. Speaking to the same newspaper, he called on Russian Patriarch Kirill to not “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy” over the invasion of Ukraine.

Kateryna called for countries to form “a strong diplomatic coalition to push Putin to let them go safely to a third country”.

Yuliya added that the last time she spoke to her husband, he asked her to find an article on the internet about how to live without water for the longest possible time.

Ukrainian serviceman in a shelter at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Plant in Mariupol
Ukrainian serviceman in a shelter at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Plant in Mariupol (EPA)

The Azov Regiment said in a social media post on Tuesday that in the past 24 hours, 34 Russian aircraft had flown over the plant including eight sorties by strategic bombers. It said the plant had come under fire from the Russian navy and from tanks, artillery and rockets. Reuters was unable to verify the situation.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Meanwhile, there have been conflicting accounts regarding whether there are still civilians trapped in the steel plant. Russian The leader of Ukraine's Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk People's Republic said on Wednesday there were no civilians left at the Azovstal steel plant in the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, TASS news agency reported.

“According to our information, there are no civilians left there. Consequently, our units’ hands are no longer tied,” TASS quoted Denis Pushilin, whose separatist forces have taken part in the assault on Mariupol, as saying.

However, a local official said at least 100 civilians were still holed up. Scores of wounded fighters are also believed to be in the bombed-out plant.

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