Troopers wrapped in blankets and sleeping baggage, some lacking legs and arms, had been hoisted into the helicopters, whose rotors by no means stopped spinning. They lifted off with eight or 9 wounded fighters that day, Flint stated, a few of whom had been acutely aware sufficient to indicate off cellphone movies of the extreme preventing they’d endured.
The March 21 mission, captured on movies offered by Flint, lasted solely 20 minutes on the bottom. “There was simply this sense of happiness, emotional satisfaction that we had been in a position to get these guys out,” Flint stated.
In all, Operation Air Hall, as the trouble was recognized to individuals, managed to land helicopters at Azovstal seven instances through the subsequent two weeks and rescue 85 gravely wounded troopers, Flint stated. A closely sedated Sergeant Tsymbal was amongst these evacuated.
However the helicopters additionally introduced in different troopers, principally volunteers, together with Pvt. Nikita Zherdev of the Azov Regiment. His father had died within the shelling of Mariupol weeks earlier, and he wrote his sister earlier than taking off telling her to study to handle herself. He didn’t inform her what he thought: that he didn’t count on to depart alive.
“As quickly as we landed at Azovstal, I understood that, wow, issues are actually occurring right here,” he stated. “Every part was coated in smoke. Every part was underneath hearth. The individuals who greeted us, shouted, ‘Sooner, quicker, quicker — there are airstrikes each 5 minutes, the jets are coming.’”
A local of Mariupol, Personal Zherdev already knew the troops at Azovstal, however the males he discovered had been withered specters of these troopers, hungry and exhausted and coated in blood and gun oil after weeks of fixed preventing. They had been shocked to see him.