At an emotional Istanbul press conference on Monday, relatives of Ukrainian soldiers in the besieged city of Mariupol asked for Turkiye’s help to save their loved ones, who have been held up under a siege for over 80 days now.
The group made up of four Ukrainians, wives, and a mother of Mariupol fighters, led by Ruslana, a Ukrainian singer who won the 2004 Eurovision song contest, urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to help extract soldiers who are cornered in an underground tunnel network at Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.
“Today, we would like to address Mr. Erdogan to combine international efforts,” Ruslana told a packed hall. “Turkiye’s role (in efforts to resolve the conflict) is very high.”
Since the war began, Turkiye hosted the highest-profile meetings of Ukrainian and Russian officials, this March, first in the resort city of Antalya and then in Istanbul.
“I appeal to the Turkish community … to say thank you so much, for everything you do for Ukraine, for your support, help, understanding, energy, thank you so much personally to President Erdogan,” Ruslana added.
“Our message today is to stand with Ukraine, unite for Ukraine, help Mariupol, help Azovstal, help our brave Ukrainian soldiers there, make a mission,” she explained. “It is about our humanity, it is not about politics.”
“We don’t have any time for discussion, we need to do everything to save people’s lives, stop the war and save Mariupol and Azovstal,” she added.
‘Turkiye is our last hope’
Visiting Istanbul for only a couple of days to convey their message to the Turkish president, the group thanked Erdogan for his attempts to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine via diplomacy. They also plan to go to the Turkish capital Ankara to reach Erdogan.
Natalia Zarytska, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier, also thanked the Turkish public and Turkish leadership for supporting Ukraine.
“Turkiye is our last hope,” said Zarytska tearfully. “Mr. Erdogan, please save our relatives. Your such peaceful efforts are worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
She also urged Erdogan, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and God to help save their loved ones in Azovstal.
Noting that along with her 8-year-old son, she had to live in a shelter for a month in Mariupol before evacuation, she said: “There are still people who are trying to survive there despite scarcity.”
In a short phone call on May 7, the last time Zarytska and her husband spoke, he said: “Natalia, maybe we will not see each other again.”
Olga Kerod, the wife of a border guard, also thanked Erdogan for his efforts and said: “Our girls and boys are suffering there, I can’t even say that water, food, and medical supplies are (just) insufficient, they do not exist.”
“Please save our children, this is a meaningless war,” Kerod added. “Turkiye is our last chance, please help us to save our children.”
‘For 80 days I have been dying every day’
Natalia, also the mother of a soldier, said that her son has been fighting since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region began fighting, ahead of the enclaves’ recognition by Moscow as “independent” just before Feb. 24, when it launched the war.
Saying that they were living in Donetsk, she underlined after Russia’s invasion they had to leave the region, adding: “Our children are soldiers and I would like to draw attention to the ammunition used against them. Phosphorous bombs and chemicals were all used against them.”
“This resistance lasts for more than 80 days, and for these 80 days I am dying every day,” she added in tears.
At least 3,573 people have been killed and 3,816 injured since Russia launched the war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.
Over 6.1 million people have fled to other countries, with some 7.7 million people internally displaced, according to the UN refugee agency.
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