As Russia prepares for Victory Day celebrations on Monday, World War II veterans have urged Vladimir Putin to allow Ukrainian civilians and soldiers to leave a beleaguered steel mill in Mariupol.
Moscow reportedly aims to complete the takeover of the strategically important Ukrainian port city by May 9, when Russians celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 with military parades in Red Square.
Moscow’s assault on Ukraine has become the country’s biggest conflict since the end of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, and reports suggest Putin could use VE Day to officially declare war on Ukraine, although the Kremlin has denied that.
As VE Day approaches, World War II veterans in kyiv have called on Putin to allow Ukrainian soldiers and civilians out of the heavily bombed Azovstal steel plant, the only part of Mariupol that is not is not under Russian control.
“Hitler’s logic was clear, he wanted to destroy all nations,” veteran Alexandra Romanchikova said in a video posted by Ukrainska Pravda. “Why you [Putin] attacked us is unclear. We didn’t ask for anything and didn’t impose our orders on you.”
Another veteran, Oleksiy Tkachenko, said: “War is the destruction of the people. Especially now. It’s Putin’s order. You can’t do things like that. Why are you making people suffer? Free Mariupol garrison, please. Release We ask you to take appropriate measures for the release of the military and civilians who are currently in the city of Mariupol.”
A third veteran, Pyotr Tsybek, said in the clip: “I know what is happening in Mariupol. I constantly monitor this. But this is a useless war. This massacre must be stopped.”
Veterans pointed out that Ukrainians and Russians fought side by side for the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany during World War II.
“We protected [people] of a terrible villain in 41-45,” they said in a joint statement, appealing to Putin. “Don’t be the same villain. Become a human being. Release them for the sake of our [Great Patriotic War] victory, which we also forged.”
The Azovstal plant has been the scene of a fierce battle as Ukrainian forces continue to push back against a full Russian takeover of Mariupol.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least 200 civilians were sheltering in underground bunkers inside the factory with little access to food or water.
On Saturday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the factory had been partially evacuated.
“The president’s order has been carried out: all women, children and elderly people have been evacuated from Azovstal,” she wrote in a post on Telegram. “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over.”
In his late night address, Zelensky said the focus would now be on extracting the wounded and medics.
Zelensky added that efforts to secure humanitarian corridors for residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns would continue on Sunday.