Tuesday, December 06, 2022

While Russia stuns cities to the north and east, a relatively calm Odesa kisses its defenses | Nation World News

When the air raid sirens go off these days in the Black Sea city of Odesa, there are those who run for the bomb shelters and those who continue with their business – though perhaps in a slightly more subdued way.

A Ukrainian colleague compared it to the early days of the pandemic, when streets were empty with expectations of possible disasters and fear of the unknown.

But after a while, people began to appear in larger numbers on the street as they adapted to their changing circumstances.

After all, predictions that Odesa’s strategic value, as Ukraine’s largest Black Sea port and home to its small fleet, would make it an early target for the Russians did not materialize.

Other cities carry the heaviest of those early assaults, thus buying Odesa time.

“We understand that while … Kiev is fighting, while Kharkiv is fighting, while Mykolaiv is now fighting so bravely, we have this gap to prepare the city,” said Inga Kordynovska, a lawyer providing humanitarian aid from Odesa to the front lines opposite coordinate, said. Ukraine.

Inga Kordynovska
Inga Kordynovska is a lawyer coordinating humanitarian aid from Odesa to front lines across Ukraine. (Jean-Francois Bisson / CBC)

The shelves of pubs and stalls in the trendy Odesa Food Market are now filled with medicine and warm clothing for frontline soldiers and essential supplies for people trapped by fighting.

Volunteers in high-waisted jackets pack boxes or tap away at computers in the market’s two-tiered gallery, beneath a giant red dragon left over from happier times and still hanging from the ceiling.

Odesa Food Market
Volunteers with the Ukrainian war effort sit in a food market in Odesa. The sign next to the statue of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reads: “Our nation is not for sale.” (Jason Ho / CBC)

Kordynovska says the horror of what is unfolding in cities like Kherson, Melitopol and especially Mariupol in the east is a powerful motivator and a unifier for Odesane preparing their city for war.

“We see that every city that Russian soldiers have come to has been destroyed,” she said. “And of course even those people who say they are not [into] politics – [that] it does not matter to us, Odesa is a separate city – now they understand that, no, you can not be out of this process. You can not say, ‘It’s not about me.’ “

Odesa ‘had a lot of time to prepare’

Some analysts have suggested the reason why Odesa has been spared so far – apart from the strong resistance encountered by Russian forces in cities such as Mariupol and Kherson – is that the city, founded in 1794 by Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great, has special significance. for Russians. President Vladimir Putin.

Whatever the reason, the authorities seem determined not to waste time. Odesa’s elegant city center is now a closed military zone drawn to war.

KYK | People in Odesa, Ukraine, are preparing for the possibility of a direct battle with the Russian army:

Mpx Evans Odsa.jpg?Crop=1

Odesa remains unharmed but vigilant

Odesa, Ukraine, has so far been spared from any major Russian attacks, but residents of the big port city say it does not mean they can relax. 2:30

Metal anti-tank obstacles dangle city streets, some so large that they dwarf passers-by, which from a distance look like small pieces trapped in a giant’s board game.

Odesa’s baroque opera house is now out of reach of ordinary citizens, standing behind sandbags and shining like a cake on the other side of a checkpoint. Musicians can still come through to practice and show IDs to soldiers with their instruments slung over their backs.

Residents who did not leave the closed military zone are also allowed in, including 83-year-old Mark Bradis, who served in the former Soviet Army.

“And where can I go?” he said when asked why he did not leave the cordoned-off area. “My wife is sick. She has Alzheimer’s. I take care of her.”

His outlook is dark.

“It is impossible to defeat [Putin]”He has a lot of weapons he has not used yet … I’m afraid it could all end in a nuclear war.”

Bradis asked, “Why does he have to occupy other people’s lands? People are addicted? I can not understand. It does not fit in my head.”

Odesa Opera House
As part of fortifications in the event of a full-scale Russian attack, Odesa’s baroque opera house stands behind sandbags. (Jason Ho / CBC)

Some of the young soldiers at the checkpoints are more optimistic and insist that Russian troops will never be able to take Odesa.

“They can try,” says Ilya, a 23-year-old who, for safety reasons, chose not to give his surname. “Odesa had a lot of time in my mind to prepare. The city is definitely ready.”

‘This is a universal evil’

Local authorities are clearly working hard to keep morale high among the city’s defenders.

In a somewhat surreal scene over the weekend, they held a ceremony to honor members of the National Guard on the empty promenade at the top of the Potemkin Stairs, immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.

There were flags, two armored personnel carriers and a marching band making a zipper every time someone’s name was called to receive a certificate – but no public to look at and clap at them.

Trumpets In Odesa
In an effort to boost morale, local authorities held a ceremony this past weekend to honor members of the National Guard. It included flags, two armored personnel carriers and a marching band. (Jason Ho / CBC)

The former pro-Russian mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, was on hand.

“I could not imagine that I would consider it [Russians] our enemies, ”he said in an interview with Nation World News.

Most Odesans are Russian as native speakers, and in the past there have been divisions over issues of Ukrainian and Russian identity in the city. Trukhanov says Putin’s invasion put an end to it.

“What politicians have failed to do in 30 years – as they say, to work Ukraine together – we succeeded today. We realized that we are all Ukrainian brothers and we have one country. It must be protected, and we will do it. ”

Odesa Residents Singing Anthem
Odesa residents sing the national anthem after building a barrier for a checkpoint last week. (Oleksandr Gimanov / AFP via Getty Images)

Trukhanov insisted “we do not relax.”

“And I would advise European countries not to relax either. Because it is a universal evil, a global evil, which today has shown its whole essence by unleashing a bloody war and killing civilians.”

Look at Russian progress

The air raid sirens often sound in Odesa, in part because the city’s air defense systems engage with cruise missiles launched by Russian warships stationed somewhere in the Black Sea at targets further inland.

Odesa itself was apparently hit only once by shelter, in a suburb on the outskirts.

On Tuesday, however, a cruise missile hit the regional state administration building in Mykolaiv, another port city about 130 kilometers east of Odesa.

So far, Ukrainian forces have managed to stop Russian troops from advancing past Mykolaiv.

But if the Russians were able to land past Mykolaiv, the consensus for many is that Moscow would be more likely to land troops near Odesa by sea.

Some of the beaches along the southern coast were apparently exploited by the Ukrainians in an attempt to prevent such an attempt.

And along one stretch of Odesa, near the now-dormant yacht club, local volunteers of all ages regularly come along with diggers to help fill sandbags, which are then transported elsewhere by truck for the city’s defense.

Ukrainian Woman Filling Sandbag
A woman fills a sandbag from the beach in Odesa, as part of a larger effort to strengthen the city’s defenses against a possible Russian attack. (Jason Ho / CBC)

Among the volunteers is Olga Hodis, a librarian in her 60s. She says it helps calm nerves to do something practical.

“To sit and do nothing is much worse. When you do something, you feel useful. Otherwise you can read the news all the time and feel scared and have panic attacks.”

Inga Kordynovska, who coordinates the city’s humanitarian center, calls the community spirit a continuation of the 2014 Maidan uprising, which led to the expulsion of Ukraine’s pro-Russian central government of the day.

“You know, Maidan gave us great feelings of cooperation, but now it’s a hundred times more,” she said.

“Now we absolutely forget all our previous conflicts within Ukraine. It does not matter with whom – with power, with authorities, with business, with voluntary organizations. Everyone is really working together now. And I think that is the main weapon in this war. . “

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