A group of wives of Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov battalion have asked Pope Francis to intervene to “save the lives” of soldiers entrenched for several weeks in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, besieged by the Russian army.

“We ask the pope to visit Ukraine, to talk to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, to tell him to let them go,” Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, wife of Azov battalion commander Denis Prokopenko, told reporters. at the end of the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square.

The request to the Pope was made during a meeting of about five minutes at the end of the general audience, on the occasion of the traditional greeting to some of those present.

“We hope that this meeting will serve to save their lives. We are ready for any gesture from the pope, from his delegation. Our soldiers are willing to lay down their weapons in case of evacuation to a third country,” he added.

“We told the pope that we have 700 of our wounded soldiers, who suffer from gangrene, who have had amputations (…) Many of them died, we have not been able to bury them,” said Yulia Fedosiuk, 29.

“We have asked the pontiff for help, to act as a third party in this war and to intervene so that they can leave through a humanitarian corridor. He replied that he prays for us and that he will do everything he can,” he added.

There are no civilians left in the steelworks, after last week’s evacuations, according to a Ukrainian government official, who explained that they are looking for a way to get the seriously injured out.

The conditions of the military are “terrible”, “without water, without food, without medical equipment”, explained Fedosiuk, who fears that the Russian forces will capture, torture and kill them.

The Ukrainian General Staff announced on Tuesday that Russian artillery fire and aerial bombardment continued to hit the east of the country, including the Azovstal steelworks in the southeast of the country.

According to kyiv, “more than a thousand soldiers” are still entrenched in the industrial complex, among them, “hundreds of wounded” and they are in the labyrinth of galleries and basements that are under the immense steelworks, of Soviet construction and that represents the last redoubt of Ukrainian resistance in that port city in southern Donbas.

Ukrainian authorities have said they are “working” on the possibility of evacuating soldiers, medical personnel and military chaplains wounded at the steel plant, while awaiting help from international organizations and Turkey.

Created in 2014, the controversial Azov battalion, considered a neo-Nazi militia by some and heroes by others, is at the heart of a propaganda war between Ukraine and Russia, which invoked the “denazification” of the former Soviet republic as the objective of its intervention. military in that country.

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