Wives and mothers of Mariupol's last defenders hold out hope of return

While some civilians have managed to escape the besieged steelworks in Mariupol, the loved ones of the trapped soldiers are pleading for them to be allowed out, reports Correspondent John Ray

To a nation fighting for its very survival, they are heroes - but they are also simply flesh and blood.

Something that has been revealed in painful detail in images of the men defending the besieged city of Mariupol to the end.

A small number of Ukrainian soldiers are holding out - the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in a city that is otherwise in Russian hands, trapped under the Azovstal steelworks, with loved ones praying they make it home.

Fighters of the Azov Battalion said their wounded comrades are living in unsanitary conditions “with open wounds bandaged with non-sterile remnants of bandages, without the necessary medication and even food".

There are an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters - along with 100 civilians - who remain holed up in the plant's complex underground tunnels.

The Ukrainian flag still flies over the steel works where they are making a last stand against Russian invaders.

The loved ones of those trapped inside live in fear that they will never see their partners, sons or brothers ever again.

The wife of one of the soldiers still fighting to keep the steel plant in Ukrainian hands said: "One of the last messages I had is the most terrifying. It said Katya, if we die here, then you won't be able to get our bodies.

"There are mobile crematoriums, and the Russians have dug mass graves.

"They will either burn us or bury us."

The loved ones of the fighters are their most powerful advocates, telling the outside world of the squalid conditions the fighters are trapped in.

One mother who spoke to ITV News told how the battalion only get one meal per day.

"My son texted to say he'd had a cup of porridge and tomato sauce, and that's it," she said.

"And in the evening, they have a slice of bread. They drink water from the radiators."

In recent days, the United Nations and Red Cross organised a dramatic rescue of what some officials said were the last civilians, with all women, children and the elderly said to have been evacuated.

But on Tuesday, two officials said about 100 people were believed to still be trapped in the plant.

On Wednesday, they made a plea for salvation and asked the Pope to intervene on their loved ones behalf's.

Among them was a fiancé who dreams of a future beyond war for her boyfriend.

"I call him superman," she said.

"I have never met anyone like him, anyone as decent. These men are the light of our nation. They must be given a chance to leave."

In Mariupol, the soldiers are writing a chapter in their nation's history.

But they have wives who don't want to be widows and mothers who don't want to mourn.

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