'People are dying every second': Wives of Mariupol defenders appeal for soldiers' rescue

"Mariupol has to have a chance. Not only civilians, we're here to rescue alive soldiers too"

Two Ukrainian women whose husbands are trapped defending a besieged steel plant in Mariupol have issued a desperate plea for soldiers to be evacuated alongside civilians, fearing they will be tortured and killed if left behind.

“The lives of soldiers matter too. We can’t only talk about civilians,” said illustrator Yuliia Fedusiuk, 29, whose husband Arseniy Fedusiuk, a member of the Azov Batallion, is defending the southern port city.

“We are hoping that we can rescue soldiers too, not only dead, not only injured, but all of them.”

Yuliia and Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko is the Azov commander, urged the international community to help to evacuate Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant "right now" where "people are dying every second".

Yuliia's husband, Arseny Fedosiuk left, and Kateryna's husband Denys Prokopenko Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

The plant is the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic and now bombed-out port city.

An estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders and 1,000 civilians are holed up in the plant's vast underground network of bunkers, which are able to withstand airstrikes.

But conditions there have grown more dire, with food, water and medicine running out, after Russian forces dropped “bunker busters” and other munitions in recent days.

The deputy commander of the Azov Regiment of the Ukraine National Guard that is holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol says 20 civilians were evacuated from the plant on Saturday evening amid a ceasefire observed both by Ukrainian and Russian forces.

In a video address posted on Azov's channel in the Telegram messaging app, Sviatoslav Palamar said those evacuated were women and children.Earlier on Saturday, Russian state media reported 25 civilians leaving the plant.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Palamar was referring to the same group as the Russian news reports.

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on the latest developments in Ukraine

The women, who made their international appeal in Rome on Friday, said 600 of the soldiers are wounded with some suffering from gangrene.

They provided graphic videos and photos sent by their husbands of men with amputated limbs, bullet wounds and other injuries.

They said people are eating porridge, old cheese and rudimentary bread to stay alive.

The United Nations has said Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on arranging evacuations from the plant during a meeting this week in Moscow, with the U.N. and International Committee of the Red Cross involved.

But the discussions as reported by the U.N. concerned only civilians, not combatants.

"Some of them are already dead. Every night there is bombardment"

Kateryna has called for a Dunkirk-style mission, a reference to the World War II maritime operation launched to rescue British and Allied troops surrounded by German forces in northern France.

“We can do this extraction operation... which will save our soldiers, our civilians, our kids,” she said.

“We need to do this right now, because people - every hour, every second - are dying.”

Yuliia said she and Kateryna are calling for help from Europe, the US and international organisations to find a diplomatic resolution to the Azovstal standoff.

Fearing the worst, she said Ukrainian troops would never surrender to Russian capture.

“We don’t know any Azov soldier who came (back) alive from Russian soldiers, from 2014, so they will be tortured and killed,” Yuliia said.

"We know that definitely, so it is not an option for them.”