Mykolaiv, Ukraine – Surrounded by a crowd cleaning up the debris caused by another Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, Marat Bagdasarov cannot contain his outrage.
“Europe sold us out, Americans are b***rds,” said the pensioner.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We asked them to close the sky but they didn’t,” he said, referring to Ukraine’s unmet demand to Western nations to impose a no-fly zone following Russia’s invasion.
“Why? Traitors. To protect their children?”
A few weeks ago, there were nearly half a million people in Mykolaiv, a major shipbuilding centre east of Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and major port hub.
Today few are left, and they have to rely on handouts as there is no more drinkable water. With the economy at a standstill, people are selling whatever they own, some to pay their utility bills. Even then, there are hardly any buyers.
In the early stages of the war, a Russian advance on Mykolaiv was successfully pushed back by the Ukrainian army. But Russia’s recent military progress in the key southeastern port city of Mariupol has raised fears it could widen its offensive to attack other southern targets, west of Kherson, which is also under Russian control.
On Monday, a series of early morning attacks hit several houses and businesses in Mykolaiv, sending shockwaves across the civilian population, with some survivors wondering how they escaped the ferocity of a missile lobbed from afar onto their homes.
“With Mariupol and the Kherson region effectively under Russian control, there is concern that they could be preparing for a counteroffensive,” Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Mykolaiv, said.
That might be why people are not returning yet to Bashtanka, just off Mykolaiv in the northwest. The town was recaptured by the Ukrainians about one month ago, and for those fleeing Kherson, it is the first stop on a journey to other safe places.
Today, Bashtanka looks like most other places targeted by Russians since the February 24 invasion: roads littered with craters and debris, roofs collapsed, twisted steel.
Apart from reducing villages, towns and cities to rubble, Russia’s invasion has so far killed thousands and sent some six million people fleeing to other countries.
After withdrawing from areas near the capital, Kyiv, some six weeks ago, Russian forces have now shifted their focus on eastern and southern Ukraine. In recent days, they have also abandoned their positions near Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv but have pressed on with their main offensive in the Donbas region, in eastern Ukraine.
In the south, meanwhile, the Ukrainian army says it is fighting back against Russian attacks.
“The morale of the enemy is low,” said Vadim Chorny, from the 63rd Brigade of the Ukrainian army. “They are not advancing on the ground because they can’t break our lines. The sanctions are having an impact,” he said, referring to the unprecedented package of punitive measures imposed by Western countries on Russia following the invasion.
“They can’t produce certain weapons any more,” Chorny added, but conceded that Russia had an advantage in the usage of artillery systems. “Their range is longer than ours and can hit us hard,” he said.
Back in Mykolaiv, Bagdasarov has more angry words – this time, seemingly for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I am going to appeal directly to the other b***rd. Do you understand who I am talking about?” he said, clenching his fist.
“You son of a b***h, I would tear you apart with my own hands.”