This submission is currently being researched & evaluated!
You can help confirm this entry by contributing facts, media, and other evidence of notability and mutation.
The Azovstal Steel Works is a steel and metal-making plant in Mariupol, Ukraine that became a prominent battleground and holdout during the 2021-2022 Russia-Ukraine conflict. In early 2022, Russian forces tried to take over the plant, however, they did not toward the end of April 2022 due to the elaborate tunnel system beneath the region. The military action generated reactions and memes online, as well as widespread media coverage around the world.
Azovstal iron and steelworks is a steelmaking plant in the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. It was established in 1930 when Ukraine was still a part of the USSR. In the 1940s, production had to halt due to World War II. In 1991, after the independence of Ukraine, the plant became the property of the new country.
In 2014, the Russian military launched an operation to take Mariupol and bunkers at the plant were used for protection against the attacks. This occurred around the same time as the Ukrainian Revolution and Russia's invasion of Crimea.
The Azovstal steel plant didn't surface in international news again until March 2022 amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict that escalated in late February 2022. On March 19th, 2022, Azovstal had reportedly been badly damaged after Russian forces invaded the city of Mariupol. Videos surfaced on social media of the plant being attacked. In one video shared on March 19th, 2022, by Twitter user lesiavasylenko, explosions can be seen and smoke rising from the building. Over the course of one month, the video received roughly 387,100 views and 7,400 likes (shown below).
— Lesia Vasylenko (@lesiavasylenko) March 19, 2022
The plant was left heavily damaged and contested going into the next week in March. The attack was aimed at slowing Ukraine's economy.
On April 15th, The Guardian reported that the Azovstal plant was being used as a hold-out for the Ukrainian army. According to the publication, the Ukrainian troops were surrounded by the Russian military seven weeks into the invasion. However, the steel plant was acting as a "fortress," wherein, the Russian army could not find the Ukrainian military due to the "enormous space with so many buildings." Additionally, the Azovstal plant had a system of tunnels beneath it that added to the difficulty for the Russian army. The Guardian also noted that President Putin's reasoning behind the invasion was to completely fulfill his "denazification" campaign (graphic shown below provided by The Guardian).
On April 19th, 2022, Russia demanded for Ukrainian troops to leave Azovstal steelworks by noon that day. The defense ministry was quoted saying, "All who lay down their arms are guaranteed to remain alive." The New York Times reported that the Ukrainian forces inside vowed to fight until the “last drop of blood.”
On April 21st, 2022, Putin called off an invasion of Azovstal and instead declared victory. He warranted the victory through the success of the Russian army's blockade of Azovstal, which kept all the army men and civilians inside its region stuck and isolated. However, distrust of the Russian government's declaration was palpable, with some saying that their withdrawal alluded their attacking troops' weakness due to prior battles which took place. Additionally, the prospect of, "climb[ing] into these catacombs and crawl[ing] underground" was stressed to Putin as dangerous by his advisors. After the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, declared victory over the city of Mariupol on taking Azovstal's administrative building, Putin ordered to seal the plant "so that a fly can’t get through" it.
Memes regarding the Azovstal steel plant centered on the elaborate tunnel systems beneath it that the Ukrainian army was holding out in despite the Russian's best efforts. This alleged incompetence of the Russian army to navigate and overcoming these tunnels led to subsequent memes that poked fun at President Putin and his army.
For instance, on April 18th, 2022, Redditor POD-8 posted a meme to /r/NonCredibleDefense that used the Saddam Hussein's Hiding Place to humorously represent the Azovstal tunnel system. Over the course of four days, it earned over 940 upvotes (shown below).
On April 20th, 2022, a 4chan thread was started on the /k/ imageboard that included both an accurate graphic of the Azovstal tunnel system (shown below, left) as well as a more elaborate, meme-centric one created on MS Paint (shown below, right). The graphic was also shared eight days prior, on April 13th, 2022, to the /r/NonCredibleDefense subreddit. Similar poorly drawn Azovstal tunnel system images were shared on April 7th and 8th, 2022, however, the threads are no longer accessible.