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Ukraine, the story of the 70 volunteers who flew to Mariupol under siege

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While the Azov fighters attempted the last strenuous defense of the besieged Mariupol, a group of young volunteers accepted a “one-way ticket”, to join their comrades inside the Azovstal steel mills, knowing that from there they would hardly be able to go out. Already complicated to get there alive, flying at low altitude on old helicopters 120 kilometers under Russian control, with the enemy’s anti-aircraft defense ready to shoot them down. To organize these very high-risk special missions was Vladyslav Sobolevskyy, nickname ‘Borisfen’, award-winning chief of staff of the Azov regiment between 2014 and 2017 and today deputy commander of the regiment of the Azov special operations forces in Kiev, after the return to service on February 24, 2022. “When the large-scale invasion began I was in Kiev, together with my fellow veterans of the Azov battalion, with whom we created new units of the regiment,” Borisfen told Adnkronos. With Mariupol under siege, Ukrainian intelligence decides to send medicine, ammunition and weapons, but above all reinforcements, to the city overlooking the Sea of ​​Azov. Deputy Commander Sobolevskyy is assigned the task of organizing these special rescue missions, from the logistical aspects to the choice of volunteers willing to participate. “It was very difficult to send people to Mariupol, since – he says – the commander carries the weight of all those for whom he is responsible”. “The boys, however – assures Sobolevskyy – were well aware of the risks they faced: we made it clear that it was a one-way ticket and that they would be stuck there until Mariupol’s liberation. And they knew that the Ukrainian armed forces would hardly be able to liberate the city. ” Despite this “we found many more volunteers willing to leave than we physically could send”. In the end, more than 70 people reached Mariupol, activists and sportsmen who worked on other things before the war and had never boarded a helicopter. Most of them were young people under 30. All men, except one female nurse, who left on a medical flight together with two surgeons and two anesthetists. In total, between late April and early May, there were seven special missions. Sobolevskyy organized six of them, four of them in collaboration with the paratroopers. The helicopters left loaded with aid and volunteers and returned with the wounded on board. “Dozens of people we managed to evacuate”, reports the deputy commander, explaining that on the helicopters “we could place 6 to 8 seriously injured and up to 20 passengers, if there were people able to stand or sit”. For the volunteers who decided to take part in the missions, “the risk of life – says Borisfen – was total. First of all, the helicopters, which had to travel about 120 kilometers over the territory occupied by the enemy, could be shot down by anti-aircraft defense systems or rockets. Russians “. To prevent this from happening, the flights took place at night, without however “having the highest quality night vision systems available” and the “helicopters, of the Soviet-made Mi-8s, worked at the limit of their power, flying fast and very low altitude. So there was also the risk of crashing “. On the other hand” the most powerful weapon were the pilots, who, despite not having many hours of flight behind them, had a clear target and were ready to risk his life to be able to bring aid to the Mariupol garrison. ” However, the danger did not end during the journey, on the contrary, “the most risky moment was that of landing, when the unloading and loading operations had to be carried out in a hurry” under the attacks of the Russians, attracted by the noise. In fact, “some helicopters were unable to return: they were shot down and the injured on board were also killed. As well as the crew of a helicopter who was caught in a trap while trying to rescue another”, he says. Sobolevskyy, then referring to flights returned before reaching Mariupol. A difficult fate – as expected – also fell to those who managed to get to Azovstal. “We have had many losses and many wounded. And whoever remained there, is now in prison along with the whole regiment”, says Borisfen, who in constant contact with his families, says he is “100% sure that we will be able to bring them all back to We have no other choice: they are the best fighters in Europe, they have carried out the order that was given to them and all of Ukraine, indeed the whole world, are indebted to them. “” On their release and on the improvement of conditions where they are, many people are working, but the important thing – is the deputy commander’s appeal – is not to forget them. Everyone, from ordinary people to ministers of various countries, must support them, until the last prisoner is released “.

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