Photo: Eric Romanenko/TASS
I THOUGHT I SEE EVERYTHING IN DONETSK. AND NO…
From the Southern Front, from the Sea of \u200b\u200bAzov and the Kherson region, practically no “live” information comes from military correspondents working on the front line. And rare telegram channels just depict the presence and involvement in the topic, their information is catastrophically late. For a week, or even more, I checked. Perhaps this is done on purpose. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to visit our Black Sea infantry fighting beyond the Dnieper, I did not hesitate for a long time.
The road from Melitopol surprised me with the fact that it is being made, working even on Friday evening, and, in this order – some cars remove the asphalt, others lay it, and groups of surveyors with laser theodolites are ahead. We skip this peaceful and long-awaited fuss – the locals are exhausted by the potholes left from Ukraine. But peaceful life ends on the outskirts of Novaya Kakhovka with such a scene: unharvested fields with sunflowers, to the horizon. The “seed” withered and turned black. On the side of the road is a group of a dozen cars. At the “commander’s” UAZ, a punctured tire is being changed, and fighters pour out of the trucks like peas and take up positions in a ditch. It would be like training and combat coordination, but several fighters very hastily tore open plastic bags with shots for a hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher, and immediately attached green powder bombs to them. That is, they were preparing for battle. With whom? The enemy is behind the Dnieper! It turns out that Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups are crossing the water and are constantly probing us here.
New Kakhovka was once the largest logistics center of the region, which lived and grew rich on the transit and processing of agricultural products grown here, on these golden black soils. Pine forests, a giant mirror of the Novokakhovka reservoir and a dam blocking the great Dnieper – live, I don’t want to. But, now the city was in darkness, I met only two spots of light – at six in the evening a hipster cafe and a rather pretentious pizzeria were still working. There was light in the entrances of the houses, but the windows of the apartments were black.
The Marine officer who met us immediately declared that you should not live at our disposal. Why?
– See. We don’t have a basement. I found you an apartment, it will be safer there. But, I didn’t say the word “quieter” ….
The hostess quickly explained the rules of life to us:
– There is no hot water, but there is cold water. There is no gas. Don’t go up to these windows and don’t open them, they were squeezed out by an explosion, they were boarded up while they were holding on. The market is nearby, opens very early, but closes at one in the afternoon.
– And the American “Himers” began to hit him. In general, up to a hundred arrivals per day, it happened. Well, relax, you’ll see.
The hostess left. After 15 minutes, a siren roared – “Himers” went through the city and the dam of the reservoir. I thought, seen everything in Donetsk, but here, I could hardly overcome the desire to quit shooting and lie down on the floor. Walls and windows shook and lights flickered. Morning put everything in its place – all the surrounding houses were crippled by fragments. No one came to the school opposite, with broken windows. I haven’t seen any children in the city these days.
THOSE WHO WERE NOT AFRAID
In the morning, the painful coordination of our visit to the front line began. You can’t drive your own car, civilians are not allowed through the Novokakhovskaya dam. You can call in on the army, but it’s not clear when you leave. In general, as the military said on the sidelines – “The situation is complicated.” This means that there is nothing to show – there are no beautiful trophies and shaking prisoners looking into the eyes. There are only bloody, exhausting artillery duels and assaults of settlements of varying degrees of luck, the names of which will not tell anyone anything.
Kherson, neighboring Kakhovka, was also noticeably “nightmare”, there they even sent children on vacation, out of sin. According to media reports, on Friday morning, several “Himers” hit the Daryevsky bridge, but could not repulse the entire air defense attack. We went to Kherson, it seems not far, but there is no land road. The Antonovsky bridge is crippled, they even left it to be repaired, there is no point. More precisely, let’s be objective – they won’t. Everywhere, around and on the approaches to the crossing, there are air defense systems, kneading the air with antennas, fragments of both American Hymers and Ukrainian Alder multiple launch rocket systems, an analogue of our Smerch, are lying on the asphalt. “Alder” began to be used more and more often, mixing with “Hymers” and attacking in a flock to tear apart and overload our air defense with many targets.
Kherson. View of the building damaged by shelling on Belinsky Street. Photo: Vladimir Bondarenko/TASS
People near the Daryevsky bridge were killed right at the bus stop where buses take and drop passengers. A food truck was hit, and children’s backpacks were mixed with burnt onions. A cheerful grandmother passing by with a shopping bag (she went to Kherson to buy groceries from across the Ingulets River) unexpectedly says to us in surzhik:
– Please tell me that the Banderas were knocked down.
Grandfather Yura comes out from behind a fence riddled with shrapnel with a crutch. He has nothing to tell. Rockets arrived on a warm autumn day. No whistle, no roar. Explosions and five dead. The usual story, but there is a detail: we cannot squeeze out of the grandfather who shot! Grandfather says: “it flew in from there” and understand him as you like. Fears.
Ten minutes later I receive an explanation from a Kherson journalist:
– People here are afraid to speak. Even more so on camera. True, the one who is not afraid will tell you everything, to the bottom! Especially our women.
– I understand, it is difficult to assess, but who is here for whom?
It turns out that my interlocutor thought it over a long time ago and calculated:
– Look, there are about 50 percent of the pre-war population left here. Of this number, 70% are absolutely ours, pro-Russian, and among the remaining 30% there are many hidden ones. Waiting for the return of Bandera.
– And where to find those who are not afraid?
– I’ll show you, let’s go.
“Didn’t go in, but came back”
The teachers were not afraid to speak; that day they had a festive concert at the Palace of Culture. In the lobby I meet a married couple – the rescuer Grigory and his wife Victoria. So I ask them:
– Why aren’t you afraid to talk to a journalist?
Victoria is surprised
– Why should we be afraid? God is with us, Russia is with us. And can I say hello? To Yakutia, to Neryungri, to Moscow for my brother?
According to the couple, it was the referendum that gave people some confidence. The choice is made, there is nowhere to retreat. I ask – what are the signs of the arrival of Russia, on earth, in everyday life? Victoria lists:
– Medicine is free, free clubs in schools. Education is normal again, can you imagine, in Kherson schools in Ukraine they already taught that father and mother are not necessarily a man and a woman … Communal tariffs have become lower, now we are waiting for a peaceful sky, thanks to the guys who protect us.
In a cafe, across the street from the Palace of Culture, I find its director and performing artists. They seat me at the table, and Sergey strikes me with the very first words:
– Not all people here understand the main thing. Russia opened its heart to them too quickly, and they take it for granted. “Russia has entered, so it is obliged.” Not all people appreciate that they practically do not pay communal services, that pensions have increased by 2-3 times. And Russia has not gone, it has returned forever! She got her lands back.
– Are you not jarred by pro-Russian billboards with people in vyshyvankas? They hang all over the city. Intellectually, I understand their task – to show that there will be no persecution on ethnic grounds, but it seems to me that this does not work …
– Vyshyvanka is foam. There are embroidered shirts in most of the southern Russian regions, why it was turned into a Ukrainian symbol, I don’t understand. But I guess why.
Street billboard in Kherson.
A photo: Dmitry STESHIN
Sergey suddenly tells an amazing story of his family, this is a model, a reduced copy of ongoing processes:
– My father is Rusyn, originally from the Lviv region. At the beginning of the 20th century, half of the family remained Russian, half suddenly became Ukrainians and spoke in a dialect, considering it a language, calling their own relatives “Muscovites”. That’s what people need to be told about.
THE ENEMY ROLLS BACK
On Saturday night, the situation changed dramatically – attack on the Crimean bridge mixed a lot of cards. In Kherson, especially without advertising, they decided to take the children to the surrounding areas. The roads of the liberated Sea of Azov for some time became the only land route to the Crimea and suddenly acquired the most important strategic importance. In response, the enemy began to disperse rumors about a “decisive blow to Melitopol.” According to the map and in Ukrainian fantasies, this blow would indeed have had catastrophic consequences for our Azov group – it would have been cut into two parts. I decided to get information first hand, from one of the commanders of the Black Sea Marines. “Boatswain” fought all his life – the first and second Chechen wars, then the Donbass, the storming of Mariupol, where he was wounded by shrapnel in the face, but returned to duty, in the summer – the Ugledar direction, and now the Sea of \u200b\u200bAzov. In general, the Botsman assessed the situation at the front as follows:
– We conduct active positional defense. The enemy tries to break through it every day, but rolls back.
“Boatswain” fought all his life – the first and second Chechen wars, then the Donbass, Mariupol, in the summer – the Ugledar direction, and now – the Sea of \u200b\u200bAzov.
A photo: Dmitry STESHIN
– Has something changed in the operational situation after the Crimean bridge was blown up?
– We – no, we had everything stocked up in advance. The enemy cannot interfere with the delivery.
– Were the Ukrainian troops able to somehow expand their breakthrough in Dudchany (in the north of the Kherson region. – Ed.)? I know that we left this village …
– Managed to organize the defense. The enemy paid a heavy price for this breakthrough. He tried to realize his numerical superiority, but there were enough shells for everyone. I didn’t exactly count the livestock, but the Ukrainian troops lost more than a hundred units of equipment. Including the American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.
– Foreigners are fighting against you?
– Poles are active, we hear English-speaking instructors.
– Are there fighters who distinguished themselves, and do you remember that?
– An officer with the call sign “Truth” attacked Nameless, was wounded, bandaged and continued to fight. In the same assault, 8 soldiers of the airborne assault company were wounded, after providing assistance, they continued the battle. As they said – “returned to our guys.” All were nominated for awards.
Boatswain assessed the situation on the front as follows: “We are conducting an active positional defense. The enemy tries to break through it every day, but rolls back.”
A photo: Dmitry STESHIN
– If you look at the current situation of our troops and the enemy, the first thing that catches your eye is two such long guts. Above the Dnieper and the Kakhovka reservoir and in the Azov region. Is there any danger in such a configuration?
– There is a danger for us and for the enemy. War is a chain of mistakes, and the one who makes the least of them wins. That we, that the Ukrainian troops here can get a “local Armageddon.” Everything will be decided by the human factor, skillful command, reconnaissance and defeat of targets. Who better to cope with this task, he will win.