Alexander Ermoshenko via Reuters
War in Ukraine – Although the fall of the city seems inevitable, Mariupol has not yet fallen into the hands of the Russians and resistance continues inside the famous Azovstal factory. Indeed, the Russian army is repelling a group of fighters hiding in the tunnels of this vast industrial complex.
The battle for this strategic port city is taking place in an area of more than 11 square kilometers along the Azores Sea. An area crossed by railways, warehouses, coke ovens, factories and various chimneys. Low visibility, holes, obstacles and traps at every step, steel and concrete as far as the eye can see, are a lot of fighters to spot. But everything happens under the surface: the Azovstal plant hides a real city made up of underground networks.
Sources indicate more than 20 kilometers of tunnels, up to 30 meters deep. AFP was unable to verify this information from a reliable source, while the last Western journalists left the city in mid-March. In any case, part of the Ukrainian army withdrew and continued to resist Russian attacks for weeks.
Shelter of the Ukrainian army, the Azov battalion, and a thousand civilians
Azovstal was originally built in the early Soviet era and later rebuilt after the Nazi occupation of Mariupol between 1941 and 1943 left it in ruins. Washington Post. She belongs to the Metinvest group, which is controlled by the richest man in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov.
As one of the largest steel mills in Europe, it typically processes more than 4 million tons of crude steel annually and employs tens of thousands of people.
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However, the military is not the only one using the plant as protection because at least 1,000 civilians are also hiding in the subway network, according to the Mariupol city council.
Very useful strategic formation…
It must be said that this underground labyrinth offers perfect protection and an almost perfect strategic backup point. How is the industrial zone represented? “It is a city within a city, there are several underground levels from the Soviet era, you can’t bomb from above, you have to clean underground. It will take time, ”Eduard Basurin, representative of the pro-Russian separatist forces in Donetsk, admitted at the end of March.
Via The Associated Press
For Russian forces, entering the tunnels is “impossible”, asserts Alexander Greenberg, an analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy (JISS). “They can try to do it, but they will be slaughtered because the tunnel defenders have an absolute tactical advantage.”
Because tunnels remain very effective in creating uncertainty for the opponent. It reduces the effectiveness of enemy artillery, air strikes, infantry and snipers. They impose silence on satellite surveillance and complicate technical intelligence by providing fighters in the lowlands with real mobility.
But “the net should be really very dense. They should also have stored ammunition, food and drink. This means a big stage of preparation,” a French military official told AFP.
…but it can turn against its occupants
Obviously, fighting in the tunnels of a besieged factory has not only advantages. James Rands, an analyst at the British private intelligence institute Jane’s, mentions in particular the necessary and meticulous training of soldiers. He notes that “closing spaces leads to close-range combat, which limits the effectiveness of certain weapons.” The power of the explosive increases, but the effect of the explosion can be counterproductive.
At the tactical level, “Command and control is very difficult. Standard communications work poorly and situational awareness is poor because the tunnels are generally poorly planned,” James Rands adds.
Not to mention the medical evacuation hell. Theoretically, “one hour of progress in a subway system costs ten hours to evacuate victims,” he said.
“These are large areas with spray guns that cannot be destroyed from the air, which is why the Russians use heavy bombs,” he explains guardian Sergei Zgorets is a military analyst.
But is this underground castle impregnable? This requires that the Ukrainian forces have a sufficient amount of all necessary equipment, such as night vision goggles. Perhaps this is not the case.
And they will have to offset the possible use by the Russians of water, to flood the tunnels and fighters located there, or gas and other chemical products, to make life at home unbearable or even impossible.
That’s why the Russians started talking about a possible chemical attack. Ole Zhdanov, a Kyiv-based military analyst, said Watchman. On this subject, the United Kingdom announced on 12 April that it is trying to verify information regarding the possible use of chemical weapons in Mariupol. which has not yet been confirmed.
Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of about 450,000, is one of the last urban areas of Donetsk not under fully Russian control. Capturing it would give Russian forces a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, the peninsula they annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
See also on The HuffPost: Ukraine: Six killed in “strong” missile strikes on Lviv