Mykolaiv, 10 March 2022.
by Askold Krushelnycky
Russian soldiers had hoped for a swift victory in Mykolaiv, a key staging post for control of the Black Sea, and the eventual assault on Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port and home to the country’s navy. Their hopes have been dashed.
They encountered an obstinate resistance, typical of the country’s determination to prevail against the odds. Residents of the historic city have fought back to force President Putin’s troops to retreat from the airport that they seized over the weekend.
As shells flew over the city yesterday, General Dmytro Marchenko, of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, was undaunted by the prospect that the Russians would return. The enemy were leaving bodies of their dead where they fell, he said. “It’s unpleasant to say this but their corpses are food for stray dogs,” he told me yesterday. “We’re not able to retrieve them because of continuing Russian fire in those areas.”
He vowed that his men would kill ten Russians for each civilian killed in the battle for Mykolaiv, northeast of Odesa. “We know who these people are,” he added. “We have a vast amount of intelligence, including much from our American partners, that consists of photos where we can see faces. We can see when those guys go for a piss.
“We guarantee we won’t shoot any Russian soldiers who give up,” he added. “Also, we guarantee that no harm will come to Russian tank crews if they come toward our lines with their main guns turned away from us. If they have committed crimes, they will be tried but they will be alive. The rest of them will become dog food.”
Officials in Mykolaiv, led by Vitaliy Kim, the region’s charismatic governor, have said that they expect a renewed assault within hours. They fear that the Russians will try to storm the city and capture the mile-long Varvarivskyi bridge across the Pivdennyi Buh river, which would give them a clear path towards Odesa.
Kim, 41, who was elected in 2020, has inspired Mykolaiv’s population to take up arms. His daily video updates on the war, laced with a barbed humour mocking the Russians, has made him popular viewing throughout Ukraine. As the governor emerged from his office yesterday to greet The Times, explosions from the shelling could be heard across the city.
“Mykolaiv wants the world to know that we are a very nice city with very nice people,” he said. “And when the war finishes, we want tourists — not the Russian type with guns — but people from around the world to come here. We want to show them that we are a proud city and that is the reason we will never let the enemy in here.”
He said that 28 Russians had surrendered on Tuesday. “They are hungry, dirty, cold,” Kim added. “They plead for food and water. We’ll need help and buses to get them out of here. They are being sent under police escort to Kyiv, Vinnytsia and other cities.
“Many of them are 19-year-olds or 20-year-olds who don’t understand what is happening around them. They are simply being sent here as meat to the grinder. My message to their parents in Russia is to take their children out of here. We don’t need them.”
Kim said that Mykolaiv knew its job was to prevent the Russians having a free run at Odesa, the port that provides supplies to much of Ukraine. “Odesa can sleep calmly because we will not allow the Russians through,” he said. “We ask Odesa to send us the supplies to enable us to keep fighting.”
He said that scores of Russian armoured vehicles had been captured or abandoned and were being repaired to be put into service with Ukrainian forces. The governor complained that there were too few mechanics to carry out repairs as quickly as the Ukrainian side would like.
He said that so far the city’s hospitals were coping with wounded and injured civilians. He added that a reorganisation of medical services during the Covid-19 pandemic had produced an efficient system for dealing with war casualties, and that the city’s hospitals had enough surgeons and medical supplies so far.
Colonel Roman Kostenko, a Donbas veteran, has been helping to defend Mykolaiv since the second day of the war. “With each passing day the morale and psychological resilience of Ukrainians and this city is only growing,” he said.
“I have worked with Ukrainian intelligence agencies and I can tell you that morale and resilience of the Russian armed forces is plunging with every blow our forces strike against them. We will increase our strikes to such an extent that all they will think about is running away as fast as they can.”
Kostenko said that Ukrainian officials were using information from belongings found in abandoned or captured Russian vehicles and other means to compile a list of names and home addresses of everyone who had attacked civilians or committed war crimes. “I assure them that after this war is over we will act as the Israelis do and we will come after every one of them and punish them.”
Kim had a simple message for the Russians as he stood outside his office. “We are not going to give up our city,” he vowed. “If they manage to enter, they will be attacked from every direction. We have a grid system of streets with many high buildings and it will be easy to use Molotov cocktails from the roofs. They will be burnt.”
This article also appeared in The Times.