Kador Group




Interview with Svyatoslav Palamar, Azov’s Second in Command in Mariupol

Today is April 30, the 65th day of the war in Ukraine and today I’m talking to Svyatoslav Palamar, second in command of the Azov Battalion in Mariupol. Greetings, Svyatoslav. Tell me please, when and

May. 2, 2022

Today is April 30, the 65th day of the war in Ukraine and today I’m talking to Svyatoslav Palamar, second in command of the Azov Battalion in Mariupol.

Greetings, Svyatoslav. Tell me please, when and how did the attack on Mariupol begin? Were you there from the beginning?

Well, on Feb. 24 I wasn’t in the city. I was stationed at my home base and when the first strikes hit, we started intense preparations for defense.

Had you been preparing for the Russian invasion?

Nobody really imagined a war on this scale. But of course, we’ve been at war since 2014.

Yes, you’ve always been on the front line. And if I remember correctly, you were in Mariupol in 2014 as well?

Correct. If we’d been able to predict the current scale of the war, we would have prepared better, I can tell you that much.

In your opinion, when and how did the blockade of Mariupol become a reality?

Well, the blockade of Mariupol occurred on March 1, a few days after the invasion began. There are actually a lot of factors to consider and things I’d like to avoid talking about. Azov has not been the only [battalion] to fight courageously here. We also had military personnel from other parts of the National Guard, border servicemen, marines, the 56th brigade, as well as police servicemen and a couple of people from the [State Security Service].

Some senior level experts have commented that if routes from Crimea had been mined and bridges destroyed, the encirclement of Mariupol could have been avoided. Do you agree with that assessment?

Well, it’s hard to tell and I wouldn’t want to criticize or comment on higher level commands. But there is only so much we can do. There are some operations of a defensive nature that were conducted by us, and some conducted by others present at the Mariupol garrison. And then there are actions carried out from a higher level of command. You should ask them about it directly, but I can say this: We did everything within the reach of our capability. I think that even [the Russians] didn’t expect such a fierce response on our side.

I did two interviews regarding Mariupol: one with a woman who managed to evacuate at the beginning of March after spending two weeks in encirclement; and quite a famous political and military expert whose parents were in Mariupol. Both talked about insane numbers of civilian casualties. Serhiy Taruta [former Governor of Donetsk region] has also talked about tens of thousands civilian casualties in the city. Do you have any idea what the true numbers are?

Do you know what’s the most horrifying thing about it? In my videos I say that the longer the worldwide community is unable to enter Mariupol – the longer they are unable to show courage and enter the city – the less precise the data. Because, right now, [the Russians] are intensively destroying the evidence and there are mass burials taking place. There is also information about crematoria which they are using to destroy bodies. But if we’re talking numbers, I am 100 percent sure that it’s tens of thousands of dead civilians.

The most common estimates – which are not even up to date – are between 20,000 and 40,000 dead. And it’s not getting any better for people there.

The Russian occupants are creating filtration camps and sending people to Russian territory. There are even families of soldiers that are missing. There’s currently no connection with them and we know nothing of their destiny. The fact that people are being taken to foreign territory – a territory of a country with which we are at war – is also being used to mask the real number of casualties.

How many civilians do you estimate are on the Azovstal steelworks territory?

The fight rages on and the line of defense has tightened. When we entered the territory of Azovstal, we found civilians who were already hiding there from the shelling; their homes destroyed and so on. We know about a couple of hundred civilians and there are bunkers we visit regularly. I don’t know everyone. There are basements that are simply ruined. Here at Azovstal there are many destroyed buildings and places we cannot reach due to constant shelling. The basements and bunkers we managed to reach are housing hundreds of civilians. One of those that we showed has 17 children whose ages range from 4 months to 16 years.

Just a couple days ago, a bomb fell on one bunker and a couple of missiles hit too. The building was damaged and there were wounded civilians. We sent our men there, cleaned up the rubble and there was one exit for people to get out. We brought some water and food there from what we had left. There was one old lady in there with a wounded leg, and an injured man as well.

Have there been any civilian corridors from Azovstal, or didn’t they work?

Look. During the whole encirclement of Mariupol there have been no civilian corridors. It’s a huge problem and they are afraid that they will be taken to the territory of another country. A couple days ago a ceasefire was announced in the city. Civilians arrived at an agreed location and were told they would be taken to the territory of Zaporizhzhya but were transferred to a different bus and taken to Dokuchayevsk. Then they were taken to Rostov and we don’t know where they have gone from there. In the meantime, the Russians also claimed that civilians from Azovstal could leave the facility’s territory. But as you know, this was nothing but empty promises. They started shelling the territory and civilians were unable to reach the surface.

Do you think that [UN Secretary] Antonio Guterres’ trip to see Vladimir Putin was or will be of any assistance? By the way, today he’s meeting with Volodymyr Zelenky. Generally speaking, do you see the current situation being resolved?

We would like to believe so and we hope for it. Well, some day it has to be resolved. I don’t understand why the whole world is [not acting] up to this day, actually.

How often are they bombarding and shelling you right now? What is it like on the ground?

Well, the night before last, the intensity of bombardment was lower. Last night it was colossal and on an unprecedented scale. There were more than 60 air strikes, including rockets hitting the territory of the facility, incessant shelling from naval artillery, cannon artillery, tanks firing, and [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] dropping bombs on the facility’s territory.

In the beginning, Kyiv and Kharkiv were surrounded, despite the official line from Russia about an operation in Donbas. But In fact, they were trying to occupy these territories. In my interview with U.S. General Ben Hodges, he constantly emphasized that Russia wanted a land corridor and water supply to Crimea. This seems to be exactly what we’re seeing now and exactly why they are fighting for Mariupol because without it they will not achieve their prize goals. Can we say that this is the world’s first war for water?

Yes, Mariupol’s port is one of the biggest of the Azov sea and is strategically very important. With the exceptions of Odesa and Mykolaiv, there aren’t any big ports left, i.e. there are no ports of the Azov sea. Regarding the land corridor, yes that’s true and I hope the Ukrainian government understands it as well.

Is it true that the owner of Azovstal, Rinat Akhmetov, let you in, and even helped your battalion in certain ways? As I understand, he hired your commercial subdivision to secure some of his facilities?

I don’t know if he hired our commercial subdivision.

It has nothing to do with the Azov Battalion?

No, nothing to do with it at all. We are a structural division and part of the National Guard of Ukraine. During defense planning of Mariupol, we looked at every plant in the city, including the Azovstal facility and other strategic industrial complexes, including the Illich plant at which the 36th Marine Brigade was located.

So was it initially part of the plan to use one of the plants, including its bunker system and so on?

Yes, of course.

Okay. What do you think is going to happen next? What are your expectations?

We expect our government to reach an agreement and for a third party to create a civilian corridor so that civilians can leave Azovstal in safety. This is the most important thing, which I’ve been constantly yelling and talking about since March 1. Because all this time, civilians are dying and dying en masse. The shelling intensity is still enormous and we hope for third party support. We hope for the world’s politicians to have courage. We hope that there are organizations in the world that will take on this burden and provide our civilians with a guaranteed safe evacuation. We are asking for our sick and wounded who are currently on Azovstal’s territory – more than 500 people – to be evacuated to safe Ukrainian territory and offered proper medical care. They fought bravely but they are not combatants anymore.

By the way, last night our military hospital was struck. These were rocket strikes and it was hit intentionally. They knew full well what they were doing and if we are talking about international rules of warfare and articles of the Geneva convention, it was set that fixed or temporary establishments of the medical service are not to be attacked.

We have a group for international journalists. After the bombardment of the drama theater, one of the journalists who had worked in Syria made the point that if the Russians get hold of information about a hospital or place where bread is being given to local civilian, its immediately hit with rockets. So, journalists are trying to avoid making these kinds of reports or at least to avoid showing the location of these places.

Yes, now you see what I mean.

Please tell me, is there anything you’d like to say to my viewers or viewers of ISLND TV? The mic is open.

I have talked to journalists from Syria too and they have told me exactly the same. When, for example, bombs were dropped on the drama theater, I don’t know whether or not you have heard about it, but within hours of our military arriving to help clear the rubble and search for survivors from [places that have been attacked], they are fired upon again. The same thing happened when the mobile phone tower was attacked. It was hit by “grads” and when people went on site to help, they got hit again. These are the same tactics they used in Syria just as journalists that worked there have told me.

I’d like to send a message to ordinary Russian-speaking people who know how to think. They need to understand what is really happening – that Russia has attacked another country; they are destroying another nation and want to conquer and rule over other nations. They need to be seen for what they really are.

I just want a call for action. For action and influence on Russia itself. Because if society doesn’t understand what’s happening, then what else is to come? The whole world knows what their military is doing and what genocide they have committed in Ukraine.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that not only military plants and oil terminals in Russia are catching fire on a regular basis. Military commissariats are also being attacked by regular molotov cocktails. And this has happened several times with instances growing. So perhaps not everybody there wants to follow criminal orders. What do you think? Because I doubt that Ukrainian “intel service” or Ukrainian missiles can reach Ussuriys.

Well, of course, I’m really glad to hear that there are people who are waking up. But, you know, there is also, of course, the fear. When we take prisoners – some of whom have died under bombardment because they have been living with us – they say that they didn’t know and that they were deceived. Well, we cannot torture them and don’t want to get the information by force. And what they are saying, well, I don’t know whether to believe it or not. I think it’s just fear. They knew exactly where they were going and why they were going there. But they didn’t expect such fierce resistance. So, that’s why I think that a lot of people in Russia know where their sons and husbands are being sent to and they simply want none of that. Well, I’m glad to be honest, that those things are happening. Because even it saves lives. Not only Russians lives, but Ukrainian civilian lives.

Thank you so much, Svyatoslav Palmar, Second in Command of the Azov Battalion in Mariupol.

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This is an edited transcript of the interview published with the permission of the author and ISLND TV