Watch CBS News

Ukraine families beg for rescue of troops holed-up in Mariupol steelworks as Russia forced to retreat north of Kharkiv

Wives of trapped Ukraine fighters speak out
Wives of fighters trapped in Mariupol highlight filthy conditions inside besieged steelworks 02:48

Kyiv — Russia continued pounding a steelworks in Ukraine's besieged southern port city of Mariupol with artillery on Thursday, hours after an adviser to the mayor said Russia's invading forces had blocked all evacuation routes out of town. The adviser, Petro Andriushchenko, said there were few apartment buildings left in Mariupol fit to live in after weeks of Russian bombardment, and very little food or drinking water.

Andriushchenko said some residents who've remained in the city were cooperating with the Russian occupiers in exchange for food.

Ukrainian officials say hundreds of troops remain holed-up in the decimated Azovstal steel plant — the last holdouts against Russia's complete takeover of the strategic city. CBS News correspondent Debora Patta met some of the wives, mothers and sisters of those troops as they gathered on Kyiv's central Maidan Square to beg the world to intervene.

Relatives of Azov Battalion servicemen holed-up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol shout slogans during a rally called "Save military of Mariupol" in front of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 3, 2022. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty

The families of the men in the Ukrainian regiment who've been barricaded under the Mariupol plant for two months, living under relentless Russian bombing, are demanding they be rescued. They know time is running out.

Video from inside the plant makes it hard to imagine how anyone has survived there for this long. 

The Ukrainian government has offered to swap the soldiers, some of them badly injured, for Russian prisoners of war. The fighters, members of the Azov Regiment, are close to starving. Many have had limbs amputated by medics operating without proper supplies in the Soviet-era tunnels under the steelworks.  

Lilia Stupina told Patta that the world is not doing enough to rescue the fighters, including her husband Andrey, whom she met in high school.  

"I will take a gun and go to Mariupol by myself," she told CBS News. "I will do everything to save him."

Some of the Azov Regiment family members have launched a global campaign, pushing the West to intervene to allow their soldiers to escape the steel plant. Two wives, Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, and Yuliya Fedosiuk, 29, visited Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, with one urging the pontiff: "Please don't let them die." 

The women spoke with Francis for about five minutes after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, asking him to push Russian President Vladimir Putin personally to let the men escape the steelworks to a third country, because "Russian captivity is not an option." 

Across Ukraine's south and east, the fighting hasn't let up for weeks. Civilians forced to flee the towns and cities of the region have witnessed horrors no one should ever have to see.  

Ukraine military fortifies cities in the east, ready to defend against Russian advances 02:25

"The young have no future. The old have no past," said a teenage boy, wise beyond his years thanks to the man-made disaster inflicted upon his country.  

In the heavily-shelled northeastern city of Kharkiv — Ukraine's second largest city and a thriving metropolis just three months ago — it's a game of cat and mouse, and the danger is never far away.

Ukrainian forces rush to take cover as Russian missiles and artillery rain down. But, village by village, Ukraine's defenders are pushing Russia's forces back from the northern outskirts of Kharkiv, toward the Russian border.

Ukraine pushes back Russian troops near Kharkiv 02:27

As Vladimir Putin's troops retreat, they leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Countless Ukrainians have lost their homes, their hope — virtually everything but their lives. And thousands more have paid the ultimate price.

The loved ones gathered Thursday on Maidan Square in Kyiv were desperate to prevent further losses. If Russia does succeed in breaking the will of the troops still holding out under the Mariupol steel mill, they will take full control of a key city - but one that has been reduced to rubble. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.