Five bomb shelters at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol can withstand a direct hit from a nuclear bomb, said Enver Tskitishvili, the plant’s general director, in an interview with the BBC.
As per Tskitishvili, the management of the enterprise thought about bomb shelters back in 2014, when the city was hit by heavy artillery. The general director of PJSC Azovstal Metallurgical Combine says that they began to restore bomb shelters left over from the Soviet era.
There were 36 of them, and 12,006 people could be accommodated simultaneously, says Tskitishvili, adding that 10,847 people worked there.
“We opened the archives that in 1977 when we were reconstructing the converter shop, part of the blast furnace shop, coke production – we saw that the bomb shelter was opened and reconstructed at the plant,” he said. Tskitishvili said five very powerful bomb shelters could withstand at least one direct nuclear strike in accordance with Soviet law – at the time, architecturally. They could withstand and save people.
He added that the thickness between the ceiling of the underground tunnels and the surface is at least 8 meters. However, these are communication tunnels and transitions between bunkers, while the bomb shelters themselves are even deeper.
Tskitishvili said that on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, plant employees had created substantial reserves of drinking water and food in bunkers, which allows for long-term living in them.
Azovstal – a fortress now
In April, The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on his Telegram channel that in Mariupol, soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) turned the Azovstal plant into a fortress with a bunker.
“In fact, the former plant is used by Bandera as a headquarters in this area. The Nazis, having carried out engineering work, turned the enterprise itself into a real fortress with a bunker,” Kadyrov said in a Telegram message.
How deep and extensive are Azovstal tunnels
As per some estimates, Azovstal, owned by the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov has about 24 km of tunnels running at a depth of up to 30 meters.
A former employee who spoke to Russian media said the plant’s strongest and largest structure is under the blast furnaces close to the central walkways. Under these furnaces, there is a so-called ‘skip pit’. It is a huge underground tunnel through which trains travel. The depth is unknown, but the first level is estimated to be about 10-15 meters, and the last is about 50 meters. The Soviet Union had well built the tunnel. The underground shelters have ventilation, rooms, warehouses and even a canteen. It is the strongest and largest structure in the plant. There is also a subway in the plate workshop, but everything is much more modest.
As per UK’s Daily Mail, the Azovstal bunkers can withstand powerful airstrikes. Many kilometres are occupied by warehouses, blast furnaces, power plants, and ventilation shafts on the surface. All this creates shelters for the Ukrainian troops to conduct defense. Below, tunnels begin, which go six floors underground. They allow Ukrainian troops to move covertly to attack Mariupol.
Advisor to the head of the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Yan Gagin, says that there is a kind of underground city under the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. According to him, this enterprise is a massive construction and the area of which can be compared with Mariupol. The plant has its separate communications and roads. The area of Azovstal is 11 square kilometres. There are 41 workshops and 80 large premises.
37-year-old Natalya Usmanova, who hid from Russian bombs in Azovstal bunkers for two months before being rescued by the Russian – UN team, said, “When the bunker began to shake, I had a tantrum; my husband can confirm this: I was very worried that the bunker would not withstand.”
She also mentioned the lack of oxygen in the shelters and the fear that grips people stuck there.
Built back in the 1930s, the metallurgical plant with an extensive network of bunkers, an “underground city”, was supposed to become a refuge for people in case of war.
During the Soviet times, it was the largest full-cycle metallurgical plant in Europe. The plant included a sinter plant, a coking plant, a lime shop, a blast furnace, a converter shop, and rolling shops: blooming, rail beam and large section, and a powerful rolling mill. The company has its thermal power plant. After the collapse of the USSR, the plant runs half its design capacity. The plant was designed for 6 million tons of steel, and after the collapse, it produced 3 million tons. The production of finished products is now practically ceased, except for small batches of rolled products, which the plant supplied to the countries of Africa and Asia.
Irina Butorina, a professor at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, a specialist in ferrous metallurgy and environmental problems of metallurgical production, spoke to Russia Today about the plant. Azovstal, she said, was laid down in 1929 and was conceived as South Magnitogorsk. In 1933, the first blast furnace was started. In the beginning, the plant made just pig iron, and then an open-hearth shop appeared to produce steel, rolling shops – rail and beam and large-section (for building profile rolling). The plant was supposed to produce rails for railways, primarily for Siberian highways, such as BAM. The consumers of Azovstal products included the Soviet Union and friendly countries.
Although she was a visitor there in the past, Irina herself did not see bomb shelters at the plant, but she believed they must be there. She says that all enterprises and houses built in Stalin’s times had air-raid shelters. This is no secret to anyone, and nothing was built without them.
It is said that Azovstal plant has an underground tunnel that connects with the Ilyich plant. The companies are located far from each other across the Kalmius River. Iruna thinks there are five kilometres between them. She said she does not know if an underground city exists under Azovstal, but there are definitely large underground spaces.
She said that communications have always taken place underground at all metallurgical plants. There are huge gas ducts to evacuate large volumes of flue gases. These are tunnels made of refractory bricks, like sewers in old cities.