‘Mariupol is our Dunkirk’: Ukrainian soldier in under-siege steelworks pleads for the West to rescue everyone trapped in the complex and compares it to famous WW2 operation
A Ukrainian soldier holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol has pleaded for the West to rescue everyone trapped in the complex – as the allied forces did at Dunkirk in the famous Second World War operation.
Commander Serhiy Volyna, who is among Ukrainian marines defending the city from Russian advances, urged Western leaders to ‘save the garrison of Mariupol’ and ‘carry out an extraction to rescue’ hundreds of civilians and soldiers trapped in the steel plant.
Volyna compared the steps needed to save those in Mariupol to ‘Operation Dynamo’, where an estimated 338,000 Allied troops were rescued from beaches in Dunkirk, northern France, in 1940 after being bombarded by German troops.
Volyna said there are more than 600 injured Ukrainian soldiers and hundreds of civilians including children in the steel plant, the last Ukrainian pocket of resistance in the strategic port city.
He said the situation in the steel plant, which was under a renewed attack by Russian forces on Wednesday, is dire with no medicine to help the injured and not enough water and food for those trapped there.
Volyna, from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, urged world leaders to help the civilians – including women and children – and Ukrainian soldiers to flee and take them to safety.
The desperate plea comes as an aide to the mayor of Mariupol said Russian forces had renewed their attacks on the Azovstal steel plant. No agreements had been reached on trying to evacuate civilians from Mariupol on Wednesday.
Commander Serhiy Volyna, who is among Ukrainian marines defending the city from Russian advances, urged Western leaders to ‘save the garrison of Mariupol’ and ‘carry out an extraction to rescue’ hundreds of civilians and soldiers trapped in the steel plant
The desperate plea comes as an aide to the mayor of Mariupol said Russian forces had renewed their attacks on the Azovstal steel plant. Pictured: Smoke rises above the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on April 25
Volyna compared the steps needed to save those in Mariupol to ‘Operation Dynamo’, where an estimated 338,000 Allied troops were rescued from beaches in Dunkirk, northern France, in 1940 after being bombarded by German troops. Pictured: Thousands of soldiers line up to be evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940
Volyna said in a video: ‘There are more than 600 injured guys in our group in various conditions. They really need medical help. The conditions here are not adequate, and there are no medicines, nor personnel, who could help them.
‘We also have injured civilians, who we’re trying to help as best we can. There are also hundreds of civilians here and dozens of children. There are lots of handicapped people here, a lot of old people.
‘It’s a very difficult situation. There is a major problem with water food, various other obstacles, a lack of troops and ammunition.’
Volyna said he has previously pleaded with diplomats, leaders around the world and Pope Francis to help them evacuate from Mariupol.
He added: ‘I shouted as loud as I could to have our cause heard and to get them to apply ‘procedures’. Many say they don’t understand what these procedures are.’
Volyna compared the desperately needed evacuation to the evacuation of around 340,000 Allied soldiers that were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4, 1940 after the Nazis pummelled them with artillery.
The daring rescue mission saw Navy personnel and civilians travel from Britain in boats of all kinds to rescue the soldiers. The little ships were meant to bring soldiers to the larger ships, but some ended up ferrying people all the way back to England
Volyna said: ‘As an example, I want to point to the rescue operation in 1940 in WWII. The allies, Great Britain and France, ended up on the French coast surrounded by German troops, and Hitler personally commanded the attack to be halted to allow an allied evacuation operation to be prepared.
‘More than 300,000 people were saved in this evacuation, which was carried out as quickly as possible with all manner of ships and civilian boats.
‘They saved people – civilians and soldiers – and other people and organisations, to whom it really mattered.’
Wrecked cars are seen in the city of Mariupol on April 26 as Russia continues to bombard the city
He added: ‘Today our main message is: Save the garrison of Mariupol, carry out an extraction to rescue us.
‘Today is 1940 – today is 2022. People here are going to die, the wounded will die and the living will die in battle.
‘Civilians are dying here with us in bunkers, houses, high-rises, where they are just being shot and blown up by people who may or may not even know they are there.
‘This is a huge problem. So many people died in this city. The city is basically wiped off the face of the earth. We are counting on you. Thank you.’
Russian forces were continuing to pound the steel works on Wednesday, with Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the city mayor, saying there had been no let-up in air strikes on the Azovstal plant despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying there was no need to storm it after declaring victory in Mariupo
‘Air attacks on Azovstal are not subsiding. No ceasefire, but attempts to storm again and again. Despite the statements (by Putin),’ Andryushchenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
‘At the same time, street fighting continues again in the sector between the Azovstal plant’s management (buildings) to the street.’
Local officials say much of Mariupol has been destroyed in weeks of Russian bombardment and siege since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, and that about 100,000 civilians are still in the city.
Local officials say much of Mariupol has been destroyed in weeks of Russian bombardment and siege since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, and that about 100,000 civilians are still in the city. Pictured: A burnt tank of the Donetsk army is seen in the city of Mariupol on April 26
Ukrainian officials have described the situation in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov, as a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’.
Andryushchenko said no agreements had been reached on trying to evacuate civilians from Mariupol on Wednesday. Many previous efforts to arrange a ceasefire to allow residents to leave the city have broken down.
On Monday, Russia announced plans to open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the Azovstal plant but Kyiv denied reaching any agreement on this with Russia.
It comes as Ukraine’s lead negotiator said on Wednesday no agreement had been reached for the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to discuss the war in Ukraine, despite efforts by Turkey to arrange such talks.
Mykhailo Podolyak said ‘the time of a meeting of the two countries’ presidents and the context of the meeting have not yet been determined.’
He drew attention also to increased hostilities in east Ukraine and Russian attempts to ‘completely destroy’ Mariupol.
Evacuation of Dunkirk: How 338,000 Allied troops were saved in ‘miracle of deliverance’ after the German Blitzkreig saw Nazi forces sweep into France
The evacuation from Dunkirk was one of the biggest operations of the Second World War and was one of the major factors in enabling the Allies to continue fighting.
It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940 after Nazi Blitzkreig – ‘Lightning War’ – saw German forces sweep through Europe.
The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned.
Described as a ‘miracle of deliverance’ by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, it is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.
The Second World War began after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but for a number of months there was little further action on land.
But in early 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and then launched an offensive against Belgium and France in western Europe.
Hitler’s troops advanced rapidly, taking Paris – which they never achieved in the First World War – and moved towards the Channel.
It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned
They reached the coast towards the end of May 1940, pinning back the Allied forces, including several hundred thousand troops of the British Expeditionary Force. Military leaders quickly realised there was no way they would be able to stay on mainland Europe.
Operational command fell to Bertram Ramsay, a retired vice-admiral who was recalled to service in 1939. From a room deep in the cliffs at Dover, Ramsay and his staff pieced together Operation Dynamo, a daring rescue mission by the Royal Navy to get troops off the beaches around Dunkirk and back to Britain.
On May 14, 1940 the call went out. The BBC made the announcement: ‘The Admiralty have made an order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30ft and 100ft in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned.’
Boats of all sorts were requisitioned – from those for hire on the Thames to pleasure yachts – and manned by naval personnel, though in some cases boats were taken over to Dunkirk by the owners themselves.
They sailed from Dover, the closest point, to allow them the shortest crossing. On May 29, Operation Dynamo was put into action.
When they got to Dunkirk they faced chaos. Soldiers were hiding in sand dunes from aerial attack, much of the town of Dunkirk had been reduced to ruins by the bombardment and the German forces were closing in.
Above them, RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighters were headed inland to attack the German fighter planes to head them off and protect the men on the beaches.
As the little ships arrived they were directed to different sectors. Many did not have radios, so the only methods of communication were by shouting to those on the beaches or by semaphore.
Space was so tight, with decks crammed full, that soldiers could only carry their rifles. A huge amount of equipment, including aircraft, tanks and heavy guns, had to be left behind.
The little ships were meant to bring soldiers to the larger ships, but some ended up ferrying people all the way back to England. The evacuation lasted for several days.
Prime Minister Churchill and his advisers had expected that it would be possible to rescue only 20,000 to 30,000 men, but by June 4 more than 300,000 had been saved.
The exact number was impossible to gauge – though 338,000 is an accepted estimate – but it is thought that over the week up to 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were rescued – men who would return to fight in Europe and eventually help win the war.
But there were also heavy losses, with around 90,000 dead, wounded or taken prisoner. A number of ships were also lost, through enemy action, running aground and breaking down. Despite this, the evacuation itself was regarded as a success and a great boost for morale.
In a famous speech to the House of Commons, Churchill praised the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ and resolved that Britain would fight on: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!’