White night in the strategic port city of southern Ukraine

Sleep is almost a luxury in Mykolaiv, the southern Ukrainian port city that is regularly bombarded by Russian forces.

Mykolaiv was once a target that Russia was determined to capture in the early stages of the war, due to its strategic location adjacent to Odessa, Ukraine’s main port on the Black Sea coast. After encountering fierce resistance of Ukrainian forces here, the Russian troops withdrew, but since then have continuously fired artillery and rockets into the city.

Mykolaiv’s location is all the more important because it borders Kherson, the only Russian military-controlled town in southern Ukraine. Kherson is where Ukraine and Russia are massing their forces, preparing for a tough fight that neither side has reason to lose.

The mayor of Mykolaiv said the city has been subjected to frequent shelling in recent weeks, as Russia has begun to push its forces into southern Ukraine in anticipation of a counterattack by Kiev.

On his third visit to Mykolaiv since the outbreak of hostilities, reporter Andrew Harding of BBCsaid he had to learn to get used to the challenging “white nights” and wondered how locals would adapt, when they had only had about 20 quiet nights since late February.

Harding said that every time a loud bang rang out in the night, his mind frantically tried to determine if it was a shell or a missile, as well as determine his distance from the threat.

A woman walks past a destroyed building in the city center of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on July 25.  Photo: Reuters.

A woman walks past a destroyed building in the city center of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on July 25. Image: Reuters.

“Sleep? Not much,” a hotel manager told Harding one morning last week.

During Harding’s visit in March, the woman kept her energetic appearance, gliding through sealed windows, guiding guests to makeshift bomb shelters. However, her face now showed a tired expression, a condition common to most people in Mykolaiv.

“My house has a bomb shelter, but it was flooded, we have no place to hide, we can only lie awake in bed, in the dark,” the female hotel manager shared. “Last night, explosions were heard just a few blocks from my apartment.”

During the night, sounds as normal as slamming doors, or trucks accelerating, are now disturbing, as people try to distinguish them from rockets or planes.

“I go to bed at 7-8pm, so if I’m lucky I can get a few hours of sleep before the explosions start to roar,” said Gela Chavchavadze, 60, owner of a cafe in central Mykolaiv. .

The raids usually take place after midnight. Russian forces shelled the city from the south, rockets fired from the eastern region, while cruise missiles were launched from warships in the Black Sea. Bombs and bullets can be dropped on any area of ​​the city, making people’s sleep even more restless at night.

Police examine the body of a victim killed by shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on July 29.  Photo: Reuters.

Government employees examine the body of a victim killed by shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on July 29. Image: Reuters.

Sweeping glass shards from a table after a bomb exploded in the street, dentist Alexander Yakovenko, 58, wondered why he was still alive.

“I can’t explain it, I shouldn’t have survived,” he said, pointing to shrapnel on the wall. “The sirens go off every night, but last night I was lucky to be alive when I left my bedroom to go to the other side of the building to do some work.”

Olga, his neighbor, burst into tears. “What do I say to my grandson? He wakes up at night crying and saying, ‘Grandma, I want to live,'” Olga said, before continuing to sweep glass on the floor.

“Our sleep and our dreams are destroyed. That weakens the human nervous system, causing fear and panic,” said Oleksandr Demianov, a psychiatrist in the city. know.

“Things are difficult, I also wake up every night, not only because of bombs, but also because of phone calls for help. When I sleep, I only dream of war and destruction,” Deminov shared.

The location of the port city of Mykolaiv and the situation of the war in Ukraine after more than 5 months.  Graphics: Washington Post.

The location of the port city of Mykolaiv and the situation of the war in Ukraine after more than 5 months. Graphics: Washington Post.

Duc Trung (Theo BBC)

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