Upset, Iryna says she also felt some relief: at least her 22-year-old son will not be held captive by the Russians, and he will not suffer from hunger or war wounds like many of his colleagues.
“Suddenly I felt relieved. It is easier to know that your son is dead than to know that he is in captivity, injured or starving,” explains a 43-year-old woman living in Kiev interviewed by telephone.
When all civilians were evacuated after the UN and Red Cross operations, only destroyers at the Azovstal steel plant have been rooted in a maze of endless galleries and Soviet-era bunkers.
On the surface, the Russians control virtually the entire port city in the Azov Sea. A tough-looking young man and boxing fan, Artiom, sought refuge at the steel plant in early March, spending 74 days with Telegram and Instagram as his only means of communication abroad.
“They weren’t allowed to call. Sometimes I just wrote ‘+’ when I asked if I was still alive,” said psychologist Iryna, who also has a 20-year-old daughter and two adopted children who are 9 years old. six.
Artiom always claimed to be okay. However, the mother says she noticed she was more honest with her friends. “He wrote to them that his days were numbered, that he would not flee,” he declared without tears. In reports, he said some colleagues died every day and that Russian tanks had managed to get into the industrial complex.
The soldier last spoke with his mother on May 7, and communication was not interrupted until May 11, when he received a message: his son had died in the collapse of a concrete block.
“At least he didn’t suffer. Everything happened very quickly. He’s with God,” he comforts himself. He is now worried about the fate of other soldiers stuck in Azovstal who have been seriously injured or are in danger of being caught.
After weeks of fierce fighting in Azovstal, soldiers, including members of the Azov Battalion, have intensified desperate requests for help on social media.
This week, one of its commanders, Serguei Volyna, described living conditions at the steel plant as “inhumane.” “Every minute of life is lost,” he said.
This week, Volyna appealed to Pope Francis, Western leaders and even billionaire Elon Musk for “immediate” help. Relatives of the soldiers have repeated the requests.
“My son is in Azovstal’s hell,” said Yevguen Sukharikov, the father of a member of the Azov battalion, who fears “massacre” if soldiers are not drawn. “Either we take the risk (to save them) or the whole world follows their deaths,” Sukharikov insisted.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Thursday that talks with Moscow on a withdrawal have failed. “They’re just suggesting surrender. Our young people are refusing to lay down their arms,” said a political leader who is waiting for at least one operation to remove soldiers in serious condition.
The city of Mariupol and the Azovstal steel plant became symbols of the resistance of Ukrainian forces against Russian invaders. And for Iryna Yegortenko, the death of her son defending her country is a source of pride. “He lived a good life, protected his people. He won a place in paradise,” he concludes.