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One of the hundreds of Ukrainian fighters holed up in Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steelworks has appealed Elon Musk for help evacuating the remaining survivors.
The steelworks is the final stronghold in the southeastern port city which has been bombarded by Russian troops for weeks.
Many civilians were rescued from the sprawling plant last week under an agreement with Russia, but no deal has been reached with Moscow on freeing the fighters, many of whom are wounded and who face dwindling supplies and food.
“Elon Musk people say you come from another planet to teach people to believe in the impossible. Our planets are next to each other, as I live where it is nearly impossible to survive,” marine commander Serhiy Volina wrote on Twitter in his plea to the Tesla billionaire.
“Help us get out of Azovstal to a mediating country. If not you, then who? Give me a hint.”
Musk, the world's richest man, owns rocket company SpaceX and electric car maker Tesla, and agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion (£36 billion) last month in a purchase that shocked the world. It is not immediately clear whether Mr Musk has yet seen the tweet calling on his help.
Ukrainian officials say there are about 1,000 fighters holding out in Azovstal's many underground tunnels, hundreds of whom are seriously wounded and in need of urgent evacuation. The plant is under heavy Russian fire. In February, when Ukraine's internet was disrupted following Russia's invasion, Musk responded to a tweet by a Ukrainian government official seeking help. Musk said SpaceX's Starlink satellite broadband service was available in Ukraine and that SpaceX was sending more terminals to the country.
Photographs released on Wednesday showed wounded fighters trapped in the steelworks. Fighters of the Azov Batallion 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.”
They urged “the whole civilised world must see the conditions in which the wounded, crippled defenders of Mariupol are and act”.
“We demand the immediate evacuation of wounded servicemen to Ukrainian-controlled territories, where they will be assisted and provided with proper care,” their statement concluded
The seaside steel mill is the only part of the strategic port city that has not been taken over by Russian forces. With a warren of tunnels and bunkers extending deep beneath the plant, hundreds of civilians had taken shelter there from the intense bombardment of their city.
Ukrainian and Russian officials had said the last remaining women, children and the elderly were evacuated from the plant earlier this week, but confusion remained as to whether all civilians had been evacuated after two Ukrainian officials on Tuesday said some remained.
Wives of some of the fighters appealed to Pope Francis this week to intervene with president Vladimir Putin to allow their husbands to escape the plant to a mediating country.