Kyiv – An advisor to Ukraine’s president said Thursday that fighting raged at the decimated Azovstal steel works in the southern port city of Mariupol, where about 200 civilians and hundreds of Ukrainian troops were holed up. Russia denied claims that its forces had entered the compound and insisted that a humanitarian corridor – protected under a three-day cease-fire announced by Moscow to enable the remaining civilians to escape – was open and “working.”
As the fight for full control of the strategic port city intensified, a Ukrainian commander said there were “difficult and bloody” battles playing out around the steelworks – the last stronghold of resistance against the Russian invaders in Mariupol.
Brutal fighting continued across the vast swathe of eastern Ukraine, and as CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports, there are American volunteers helping Ukraine’s defenders in the battle, and Americans are among the battlefield casualties and heroes.
The harder Russia flexes its military muscle, the harder Ukrainians fight back. Manus, a volunteer from the US, was blinded by shrapnel in the fighting.
“I’m young, I can take it. I’m a man, I’m young,” he said. “It’s the kids and old people who I really worry about.”
Ukrainian soldier Vitaly Stanislavovitch was also seriously wounded in battle. He told CBS News that he owes his life to three American volunteers.
One of them, Alexis Antilla from Texas, was injected into the same blast that hurt Stanislavovitch, but she was still the first person to rush to him – as he was trapped in a burning vehicle – to feel for a pulse.
“I didn’t think he was going to make it in that moment,” Antilla told Patta. “But we were still going to do everything we could to get him out of the vehicle.”
Instinct then kicked in for Rob Vardaro.
“I refused to let him die,” he told CBS News in an interview done via Zoom. “He’s my guy. He’s in my vehicle. So, because I knew I had no time to, like, look where I’m stepping, I ran through the minefield.”
Along with their friend Red Taylor, the third American volunteer, they dragged Stanislavovitch from the burning vehicle. Their quick thinking saved his life.
“Especially Alexis, she’s a medic,” the wounded Ukrainian told Patta. The volunteers applied a tourniquet to stop Stanislavovitch bleeding to death.
“Saved my life for sure,” he said. “They work magic. I don’t know how they managed to save my life.”
Now Stanislavovitch is worried about his American friends. Their lives are still in danger, as they’ve joined the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“I don’t want something to happen to them. I want them to be alive,” he told Patta. “It’s more than love… I can’t imagine my life without my saviors.”
Theirs is a friendship forged on a bloody battlefield that shows no signs of letting up, as Russia goes for an all-out assault in the Donbas region.
“I hope I will have some chance to prove that I’m a friend without any wars. I would shake their hands. I would say hello,” Stanislavovitch said.