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'Facing our last days': Mariupol commander pleads for help as Russian forces close in

The commander of the last remaining Ukrainian troops holding the besieged city of Mariupol has said that his forces are outnumbered and may only have hours to live.

Maj. Serhiy Volyna said there were about 500 wounded troops and many civilians with them at the Azovstal steel plant, which has become the last stand for Ukrainians in the port city against Russia’s advance.

His 36th Marine Brigade is holed up in the plant along with fighters from the country’s Azov Regiment, a far-right volunteer force that is widely considered one of the country’s most capable units. 

In a video shared with NBC News and other media outlets that was also posted to what appeared to be his own Facebook page Wednesday, Volyna outlined the desperate situation facing the fighters and asked foreign leaders for help getting them to safety. 

“We are probably facing our last days, if not hours,” he said.

Maj. Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, made his appeal from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Maj. Serhiy Volyna / Facebook

Volyna also tagged President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the post.

“We appeal and plead to all world leaders to help us. We ask them to use the procedure of extraction and take us to the territory of a third-party state,” he said. 

Mariupol, a strategically important city in southeastern Ukraine that borders the Azov Sea and sits about 35 miles from the Russian border, has been the focus of Russian attacks since mid-March. Its capture would represent a significant boost for Russian President Vladimir Putin as he launches his offensive in the Donbas region.

Ukrainian officials have said that tens of thousands of people have died in the city, which has been short of food, heat and medicines for weeks, while some have been able to flee. 

In recent days, Russia demanded the last Ukrainian troops surrender — a call Volyna has rejected. Russia issued a new deadline for surrender Wednesday, at 2 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET).

Speaking against a white brick wall and clad in what appeared to be a camouflage jacket, Volyna spoke for about a minute and stressed that the Russian forces are closing in with superior military power while bombarding the plant from the air.

“This could be the last appeal of our lives,” he said.

There have been no indications of any military efforts to evacuate the troops in Mariupol, but Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Wednesday that the country is working to open a humanitarian corridor and aims to send buses to evacuate 6,000 civilians. That would be the most significant effort in weeks.

“Given the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Mariupol, it is in this direction that we will focus our efforts today,” she said in a post on the messaging app Telegram.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly accused Russia of hampering aid deliveries and violating cease-fires during evacuations from Mariupol.

In an additional video sent to media outlets, Volyna said his troops are in “high spirit” but that conditions in the steel plant — one of the largest in Europe — are poor, especially for the injured.

“We are now in poor conditions, in a basement, men are just rotting there,” he said. 

Volyna added that civilians who came to the plant in search of safety are now in harm’s way.

“There are women and children among them. Some of them require help. All of them have been trapped here,” he said. “They too are under constant shelling. Thank you.”

Mariia Ulianovska and Matt Bradley contributed.

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