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16 June 2022, 19:31

SPECIAL REPORT: Ruins and catacombs of the steel mill Azovstal

The legendary steel mill Azovstal. One of the Soviet Union's industrial giants became the last stronghold for nationalists from the notorious Azov Battalion in late March. In the end the militants came out of their bunkers and surrendered. A BelTA reporter visited the surface of the steel mill and the catacombs after the territory was swept.

The military personnel gave understandable instructions: touch nothing, tread carefully, and do not go beyond safety tapes. Driven to desperation by the lack of food and water, the militants left weapons and ammunition behind. The surface of the steel mill has been cleansed but it looks gloomy. Reinforced-concrete skeletons of the buildings, mounds of broken bricks, and rusty bodies of vehicles. This is what I saw when we climbed to a bridge. Only ruins remained in the place of the industrial giant the entire world once knew. Not a single patch of land is likely to survive intact after two months of fierce fighting. The government of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) is thinking about restoring the steel mill or demolishing the remains outright. Indeed, Azovstal is hardly fit for repairs in its present condition.

I met a serviceman of the Donetsk People's Republic near a bunker where Ukrainian nationalists and soldiers of the regular Ukrainian army used to shelter. He said this bunker was the last shelter and a trap for the Ukrainian military. They requested support from their own command and Elon Musk. They even appealed to the Pope. When it became clear that there was no way out, the militants and the military came out of the bunker carrying white flags and surrendered. The serviceman recalled that the nationalists were demoralized and gloomy. They understood that no one needed them: neither Elon Musk, nor President Zelenskyy, let alone the Pope. Some of those, who came out to surrender, were injured, including people with grave injuries. A number of them were foreigners. Their citizenship is being ascertained right now.

Well, there is no Nazism in Ukraine! I kept in mind the tried-and-tested exclamation of Western politicians as I descended into the bunker. After taking two steps along a tight corridor I encountered a “black sun” on the wall. The myth that there is no Nazi ideology in Ukraine dissolved in the suffocating underground air. I sighed and moved on. The corridor ended with a doorway and a shocking sight inside.

It looked like a horror movie. Dim lights, multitier wooden cots, ammunition rounds all over the place as well as dirty clothes and self-explanatory leaflets. The air was stuffy and smelled like dead bodies. In the middle of all this rubbish I saw drawings by children. It is impossible to imagine what was happening here. I'd better keep my wits about and look around.

The place was surreal. A photo of Zelenskyy was glued to a dart board. Someone's dart went right through the president's forehead. It vividly demonstrates the attitude of the militants to their commander-in-chief. It seems the nationalists expected their leader to come to their aid but the hopelessness became nearly palpable. And then they left the bunker without even cleaning up their mess.

The basement is full of leaflets, literature, and posters. Every copy bears the war emblem of the battalion and Nazi symbols. I was surprised to see a copy of the book The Good Soldier Schweik. I stopped and tried to think about what I'd seen. Totally illogical. To find one of the most famous anti-war novels in a bunker of hardcore militants was beyond my understanding. Moreover, photos with call signs of nationalists were lying nearby: Kuzmich, Makson, Viking. A photo of the nationalist with the call sign Satan stood out from the crowd. Not a sight for the faint-hearted.

I wondered whether eyes of Western politicians would open and see what is going on if they came here? A second later I understood that their eyes were open wide already. They are not silent witnesses – they are accomplices and guilty of the situation that has evolved in the neighboring country of Ukraine. For many years they had been encouraging the conversion of Kiev into a bastion of neo-Nazism. Ukraine's denazification has to happen.

Ukraine's demilitarization must happen as well. On my way back I saw a pile of weapons near the door. All of them are of Western make. Weapon shipments to Ukraine began long before the combat operations did. Everything was a go for the scorched earth tactic during the shelling of civilians in the independent Donbass republics. And people, whose arms are soaked in blood of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, still make bombastic declarations about peace. Paradoxical. More than that: it is cynical and inhumane.

I climbed the stairs into the open at last. I breathed fresh air. And I tried to remember everything I'd seen and felt. I saw an American who came to Donbass to cover the situation for viewers of his own channel. I learned that his name is John Mark Douglass. He was an infantry grenadier for four years and worked in police. He came to Russia seeking political asylum after facing threats from American intelligence agencies. It was the sixth time John had come to Donbass. He believes that Russia's special military operation is important for liberating the population of Donbass republics from radical militants from the nationalist battalions and Ukraine's Armed Forces. John wanted to see with his own eyes what the Bidens have done to Ukraine. And get the message across to his own compatriots. I invited him to visit Belarus and promised to show it to him in all its glory. John took me up on the offer and said he might visit Belarus in late June.

We gathered near a destroyed building and returned to the bus.

By BelTA's Andrei Voropai

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