Families of Azov regiment fighters holed up in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol sent an emotional appeal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to "be a hero" and initiate an extraction procedure for all remaining fighters at the plant.
At a news briefing in Kyiv, a father of an 18-year-old fighter urged the Turkish leader to seize “a historical opportunity to go down in history as a peacemaker, as a hero.”
“As a man to man, a father to a father, I implore you to save my son and his comrades,” Evheniy Suharnikov pleaded, referencing Turkey’s experience with military extraction operations in the Middle East.
Using examples of extractions in Syria and Dunkirk during World War II, Suharnikov asked for a civilian vessel to be sent for the fighter’s collection from Azovstal. The fighter’s father also suggested they are taken to a neutral country, away from the hostilities.
“We need a hero, a person with enough political authority to carry out this procedure. From a political and geographical perspective, we think Turkey can be that country and Erdogan can be that person," he added.
Families of fighters have gathered 1.5 million signatures on a petition they started to secure a safe passage out of the plant for Azov fighters.
“The UN and the Red Cross are only interested in civilians,” one fighter’s wife said while standing next to her young son.
One girlfriend of an Azov fighter warned if the fighters are abandoned, “Ukraine will not have a bright future.”
Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange of the evacuation of injured Ukrainian soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel plant. There are thought to be several hundred soldiers still at Mariupol’s last Ukrainian stronghold. Russia continues regular bombardments of the plant, according to both the Russian and the Ukrainian military.