The road to Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works looks like a descent into the underworld. Even by the standards of a city almost completely destroyed after more than two months of siege and bombing, the surroundings of the metallurgical plant manage to impress the view: gutted houses and charred buildings transformed into skeletons, undergrowth littered with fragments of metal, shells and blocks of concrete, trees been mowed, cut and burned. Craters to dodge 15 meters wide. Still, it’s just the appetizer.
Just before crossing one of the secondary accesses of the Azovstal in Libero, two indications are given: follow the soldiers step by step, never set foot for any reason on a surface that is not asphalt.
The Azovstal, in fact, is a desert of the Tartars, a post-apocalyptic realm where wounded giants of steel and concrete try to stand in desolation. But it is also, still today, an active military site. Inside the mega complex of eleven square kilometers, which become twenty-four considering it the underground tunnels of the Soviet era where for weeks at least 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers of the Azov Regiment, marines and simple civilians remained barricaded during the Russian siege, the reclamation operations and mine clearance are still on the high seas.
BOMBS ARE BOMBS
The Ukrainians left booby traps everywhere, the same ones that, together with the high sniper posts and the factories where guns and howitzers were placed, in their intention should (and could have given the impregnable nature of the site) stop the offensive of the Russians . But there never was.
Vladimir Putin himself, when the coastal city was under total Russian control, ordered on April 21 not to attack the Azovstal, to surround the site, prevent outflow and bombard the steelworks day and night with artillery and tactical aviation.
The Ukrainians, for their part, had for weeks already crammed food, water and resources into the anti-aircraft bunkers to be able to resist for months. But still not without dangers. Because patrolling with drones, over time, has allowed the Russians to find the access points (always two for each bunker) of the shelters and bomb them to create real underground prisons. Among the portion of the fence where you really risk getting lost when visited by Libero, there are dormitories where fighters were burned alive, material storage sites, improvised headquarters with motivational material: posters that elevate the “figure of the fighter”, faces of the leaders of the Azov Battalion, murals with the black sun, runes of the Nazi SS and the 14/88, the numerical reference to the fourteen words and 88 precepts coined by the American white supremacist David Lane (in addition to the 88 words of a paragraph located in eighth chapter of the first book of Mein Kampf and at two Hs of the Arabic alphabet as a greeting to Hitler). Everywhere, cartridge cases, hand grenades, sights for high-precision rifles, objects presumably stolen from the shops of Mariupol (including many watches), gauze and medicines.
Here, the barricade plan to the bitter end of the Azov Battalion, more than for lack of resources, failed due to lack of medicines. Too many serious injuries, too poor general hygiene conditions, too much trying in the long run to life as a burial.
Thus, on May 20, after weeks of partial evacuations and negotiations, all remaining Ukrainian soldiers surrendered. Azov commanders were transferred to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison while hundreds of prisoners were sorted into colonies under the control of the Donetsk People’s Republic. One of them, Yelenovka, was bombed a week ago in circumstances that have yet to be clarified.
While in Mariupol the reconstruction of roads, hospitals and residential sites that are expected to house several tens of thousands of displaced before winter has begun, the future of the steel complex which was built by the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and which until 6 months ago it offered work to over 10 thousand people and was able to produce more than six million tons of steel per year, it remains to be deciphered.
Azovstal’s owner Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine, said he intends to sue Russia for € 20 billion in losses. Russia, on the other hand, intends to transform the mega-site into an industrial park or a recreational area, as hypothesized by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, according to which in general Moscow would like to expand the capacity of the Mariupol port and develop local tourism. Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, supported the hypothesis of creating a technology park, public park or residential area in place of the steel mill. The construction costs are difficult to hypothesize but we are talking about billions of euros, which should rain from Russia in the years to come to change the face of the city and in general the separatist Republic where the referendum for joining the Federation should be held next September Russian. Moscow’s pharaonic promise is a message to be sent to the Ukrainians as has already happened with Crimea, whose investments from 2014 to date have been huge. A way of saying: we are nabobs here, while choosing the West does not pay.