MIKOLAIV, Ukraine – There is no door on Anna Svetlaya’s refrigerator. A Russian rocket blew it up the other day. The detached door saved her, shielding her breasts from shrapnel as she fell into a pool of blood.
It was just before 7 am in a residential area here in the southern Ukrainian port city of Nikolaev, when Ms. Svetlaya, 67, felt her world explode in hail of pieces of metal, glass and debris as she prepared breakfast.
Her face is a mosaic of cuts and bruises, her look is dignified, ma’am. Svetlaya said: “We just don’t like the Russians. We want to know why! A retired nurse, she inspected her small apartment, where her two nurses worked to restore order.
“This is what our ‘Russian brothers’ are doing,” said one of them, Larisa Krizhanovska. “I don’t even hate them, I just feel sorry for them.”
Since the beginning of the war, Russian forces have been striking Nikolaev, frustrated by their failure to capture it and advance west to Odessa. But the city’s resistance has hardened.
Almost surrounded in the first weeks of the fighting, he withdrew, becoming a stronghold of Ukrainian disobedience on the southern front. But at regular intervals, with missiles and artillery, Russia reminds the 230,000 people who are still here that they are within range of the indiscriminate massacre that characterizes Moscow’s pursuit of war.
A Russian strike on Friday killed one person and injured 20, several of whom are still hospitalized. Nikolaev is no longer under imminent threat of conquest – Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south is troubling Russian forces – but the consequences of the war are obvious. Once a summer tourist destination, a city with a wonderful setting at the confluence of the South Buh and Ingul rivers, Nikolaev has become a ghost.
Weeds spread on the sidewalks. The buildings are closed. Drinking water is in short supply. More than half of the population has left; those who remain are almost all unemployed. About 80 percent of the people here, many of them old, rely on food and clothing from humanitarian organizations. From time to time, another explosion electrifies the summer air, throwing people into despair when it doesn’t kill them.
You better understand the Russia-Ukraine war
Expelled from a nearby village, 59-year-old Natalia Golovenko was in line to register for help when she began to cry. “We have no Nazis here! she said, citing a false justification for the war by Russian President Vladimir Putin needed to “denationalize” Ukraine. “He just wants to kill us.”
In her pleading eyes, the madness of this Russian project seemed engraved.
Without the Black Sea coast, without a landlocked ass Ukraine would be undermined nation, its ports lost, eight years after Mr. Putin has taken over Crimea. A grain-exporting nation, although now facing a Russian naval blockade, it will find that its economy will be destroyed.
But as Russia advanced mile by mile in the Donbass region to the east, it was detained in the south. After the conquest of Kherson, about 40 miles east of Nikolaev, at the beginning of the war, Russian forces were stopped or pushed back. The Ukrainians, hardened in their determination, regained their villages in the Kherson region.
“We will not give the south to anyone, we will return everything we have and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” President Vladimir Zelensky said after visiting Nikolaev and Odessa last week. Irina Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, said on Tuesday that “our army will definitely deoccupy these lands.”
Of course, Alexander Senkevich, the mayor of Nikolaev, exudes confidence. A man in perpetual motion in green camouflage cargo pants, with a Glock pistol on his side and an almost manic gleam in his blue eyes, he said: “The next step is to move the Russians from Kherson and then move them out of Ukraine.”
But before that, Ukraine needs long-range artillery, he said. Drawing on a paper mat in a cafe, he illustrates how Russia can hit Nikolaev, often with cluster munitionsfrom places that Ukrainian artillery cannot reach.
“It’s disappointing right now,” he said. “When we have what we need, we can attack them without much loss.”
This will almost certainly take many months.
The mayor’s wife and two children left at the beginning of the war. Works around the clock. Water is a major problem. The Russians destroyed the pipes carrying fresh water from the Dnieper River. The water from the new boreholes is insufficient and the water from South Buch is salty.
“It’s a big problem,” he said. “But we are too motivated, we know what we are fighting for, our children and grandchildren, and our land. They don’t know what they are fighting for and that is why they are not motivated enough. “
He sees this as a war between cultures – in Russia the leader says something “and the sheep follow”, he said, but in Ukraine democracy is necessary. In Mr. Putin’s Russia, on the other hand, means the opposite: “protection” means “invasion,” and “military targets” means “civilian.” In Ukraine, Mr. Senkevich said: “We live in reality.”
This reality is difficult. Anna Zamazeeva, head of the Nikolaev regional council, took me to her former office, a building with a gaping hole in the middle, where a Russian cruise missile struck on March 29, killing dozens of her colleagues. The last minute delay in getting to work saved her life.
“It was a turning point for me,” she said. “Every day, the wives and children of those killed watched the bodies and rubble being transported, and I could not persuade them to leave. Then I fully realized the cruelty and inhumanity that the Russians were capable of.
This was not an easy confession. Miss. Zamazeeva’s mother is Russian. Her husband, who left Ukraine with their two children, was born in Russia. Her grandfather lives in St. Petersburg. These types of family ties and other ties are common, giving war a special quality of tearing and tearing, which can lead to savagery because the “other” is not so “other” and must be erased.
“I can’t talk to my grandfather now because this conflict is too deep in my heart,” she said. said Zamazeeva. “On the first day of the war, he sent a message to our family Viber group asking how we were. I replied, “We are bombed, as are your grandchildren.” He replied, “Oh, it will be good. You will all be released. ”
She deleted him from the family messaging group.
She returned to her father’s house on her own. She sleeps in the room where she slept as a child. According to her, the war will continue for at least another year. Her days have been spent trying to provide food, water and clothing for tens of thousands of people, many of whom have been displaced from their homes in nearby towns and villages.
The war for her is ultimately simple, caught on the olive green shirt she wears. A single word appears on the entire map of Ukraine: “Home”.
“I am a free-thinking person and I cannot understand whether someone does not recognize the freedom and self-expression of others,” she said. “Our children grew up free and I will protect them with my breasts.”
Because it was a day of gratitude for the health workers, ma’am. Zamazeeva attended a ceremony at a hospital. Vitaly Kim, head of the regional military administration and a symbol of the city’s resistance, was also present. One of the honored women kissed his hand and said with a wide smile, “Good morning. We are from Ukraine! The phrase used by Mr. In his video messages, Kim became a proud expression of Nikolaev’s indomitable spirit.
In another hospital, 21-year-old Vlad Sorokin was lying in bed with broken ribs, a punctured liver, his right thigh and one knee torn to pieces. He is another victim of the missile strike that injured Ms. Bright.
“I’m not angry,” he said. “I’m just asking why.” He struggled to speak, closing his eyes. “The Russians are in a very bad position. “They are silent and listen to what they are told from above and do not think about themselves – and therefore they think it is normal to attack others.”
What would be the first thing you would do when he recovers?
“Smoke,” he said.
“I’m going to run.”
On the second bed lay another victim of the explosion, Neomila Ermakova, a dental nurse. Flying glass and debris had entered her ears, cut off her head and startled her.
“I believe in destiny,” she said. “I had to go through that. Strangely, I had just finished renovating my apartment and told my grandson, “This will all be yours one day.”