Relatives of Azovstal fighters ask Chinese President for help

Relatives of Ukrainian militants trapped at the Azovstal Steelworks, the last stronghold against Russian forces in the strategic port of Mariupol, appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, asking him to help with their evacuation.

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“There is one person in the world that Putin would have a hard time saying no to. We are sure that China, strong and noble, can make difficult decisions for a good cause,” said Natalia Zarytska, a fighter’s wife, during a press conference in Kyiv.

“We urge His Excellency Chinese President Xi Jinping to show (…) great Eastern wisdom and work to save the Mariupol defenders,” she added in a room where a portrait of the Chinese leader is hanging was.

Citing messages from her husband, she claimed the Russians were deliberately dragging things out to prolong the “torture” of the militants.


The 1,000 or so Ukrainian soldiers who are still in the underground galleries of this massive steelworks — of whom, according to one of their commanders, around 600 are wounded — “are being fired upon with all sorts of weapons, from the sea, from the ground and from air, including with prohibited weapons,” she added. “It’s not war, it’s slaughter.”

Stavr Vychniak, father of a soldier from Azovstal, was also of the opinion that “there is only one man left in the world we can talk to, the Chinese leader”.

“We urge Chinese President Xi to take the necessary measures to exfiltrate (the fighters) and act as a mediator,” he said.

As a close diplomatic partner of Moscow, Beijing is ashamed of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has so far refused to condemn it.

For days, relatives and some Azovstal fighters have been calling for help, sometimes against Turkey, the United States, now China.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed on Friday evening that “very difficult negotiations are underway” to evacuate seriously injured soldiers and medical personnel from the steelworks.

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday that Kyiv is negotiating with the Russians over the exfiltration of “38 seriously injured militants”.

“We’re going step by step. (…) There are currently no talks of releasing 500 to 600 people,” she added.

Women, children and the elderly who had taken refuge at the steel mill were evacuated in late April thanks to an operation coordinated by the United Nations and the ICRC.

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