While fighting continues on Ukrainian territory, the communication war continues with the same intensity on social networks. And the latest battleground chosen by pro-Putin supporters is the site of the Azot plant in Severodonetsk where hundreds of civilians are entrenched along with the last Ukrainian soldiers resisting Russian pressure in the Luhansk region.
If the Russians announce that they have conquered the entire city of 100,000 inhabitants, the site of this chemical factory in the east of the country and its occupants are still resisting the invader, in a scenario reminiscent of that of the factory Azovstal in Mariupol.
For several days, many Internet users have accused the soldiers present inside the complex of holding civilians hostage and using them as a human shield to prevent troops from Moscow from entering the site.
Articles, videos, testimonials, the evidence is not lacking, according to them. Worse, the Ukrainians would have refused the humanitarian corridor proposed on June 14 by Russia. In reality, the situation seems a little more complex. We take stock.
It is difficult to know how many civilians are present in the Azot factory. On Monday, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Occupied Territories, Irina Vereshuk estimated their number at 300. This Wednesday, Roman Vlasenko, head of the Severodonetsk district, counted 568 people, including 38 children, mainly employees and their families.
Trapped for more than 10 days, and the destruction, by the Russian forces, of the bridge which made it possible to evacuate the civilians, they are victims of the combats which do not cease around the factory. Moscow did offer to open a humanitarian corridor on Wednesday, June 15, but the offer was rejected by kyiv since this corridor brought civilians into territories controlled by the Russians. However, the condition of Ukrainian refugees “welcomed” in Russia is very controversial since Volodymyr Zelensky had accused the Russians of having set up “filtration camps” in which his “people are killed, tortured and raped”.
Incessant bombardments that prevent any evacuation
The presence of these civilians in the industrial complex undoubtedly prevents Vladimir Putin from launching his troops on the installations or from bombing the factory directly. Time saved for Volodymyr Zelensky for whom “the future of Donbass is being played out in the resistance of the soldiers of Severodonetsk”, and who is still waiting for NATO reinforcements as the city is about to be surrounded.
On the other hand, the surroundings of the factory and the city of Severodonetsk suffered intense fighting, as confirmed by a local policeman interviewed by AFP: “The Russians are bombarding the city center non-stop”. One of his colleagues even adds that these bombardments take place “24 hours a day” without stopping. This is the reason why the civilians refuse to evacuate according to Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region. He added on Wednesday that civilians are receiving food, water and some basic medicines. According to him, “they will be able to evacuate if there is an agreement at the highest level” between belligerents, with “a ceasefire and a clearly defined route”.
Civilians are unreachable at this time
Contacted by 20 minutes, various NGOs present in the Donbass (Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Norwegian Refugee Council) cannot confirm or deny the fact that the civilians are being held by the Ukrainian military forces, which do not have direct access to these people. A source at a large French NGO confirms, however, that the violence of the fighting on the spot annihilates any attempt to evacuate: “The Russians are in the process of razing everything. We can’t approach the area because it’s so dangerous. It can fall anywhere at any time. »
While some websites and Twitter accounts report many testimonies of civilians who managed to “escape from the Azot factory” where they were held by “Nazi soldiers and foreign mercenaries”, none of these are not sourced and a brief detour on their editorial line shows that they systematically take up Moscow propaganda when they do not quite simply quote the Russian authorities.