June 30, 2022

Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov in his workplace in Odesa, Ukraine, on Feb. 18, 2022.Brendan Hoffman/The New York Instances Information Service

Greater than 150,000 folks have fled Odesa because it prepares for a lethal Russian assault like those who have shattered different Ukrainian cities.

“We’re nonetheless in shock at what is occurring – that cities are being ruined within the twenty first century, that Ukrainian cities are being wiped off the Earth,” Gennadiy Trukhanov, the mayor of Odesa, instructed The Globe and Mail in an interview.

Town on the Black Sea, with its centuries of tradition and legacy of architectural grandeur, has remained largely untouched by two weeks of struggle which have deeply scarred different main Ukrainian cities flailed by Russian bombardments.

In Odesa, there are nonetheless moments of quiet, occasions when “the solar is shining on the town, and you might be on the highway, when for a minute you may overlook there’s a struggle,” Mr. Trukhanov stated.

Then the air-raid sirens, now sounding with higher frequency, shatter the stillness, and “we get again to the truth of a really merciless struggle,” he stated.

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Like many different Ukrainian cities, Odesa was struck by missiles within the early hours of the Russian invasion, woke up on Feb. 24 by explosions that shook houses.

Since then, nonetheless, the assaults have been solely sporadic. Final week, the town’s marine horizon was studded with Russian navy ships, elevating fears of an amphibious assault that has but to materialize. The Ukrainian navy says it has shot down 4 Russian planes within the Odesa area.

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Russian land forces stay greater than 100 kilometres away, their advance annoyed by Ukrainian troopers who’ve mustered a fierce resistance east of Mykolaiv, one other key Black Sea port. If Russian tanks can cross by way of Mykolaiv, no different main metropolis stands between them and Odesa.

To date, they’ve been held again.

Odesa has nonetheless braced for the worst because it watches the destruction of different Ukrainian cities, together with Russian-speaking ones beforehand thought of pleasant to Moscow.

Members of the Odessa Nationwide Educational Opera and Ballet Theater sing the Ukrainian nationwide anthem whereas volunteers fill sandbags to be used in defensive positions in preparation for a Russian assault. President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that Russia is getting ready to bombard Odesa.

The Globe and Mail

The struggle is directed at “all of Ukraine,” Mr. Trukhanov stated.

“I don’t need to imagine that it could possibly occur in Odesa. However I can see what has occurred in Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv – and what’s going on in Kyiv. It’s a horrible thought that this may occur in Odesa as nicely.”

From the early days of the invasion, residents from all walks of life – from opera singers to perfumers – have joined efforts to fill sandbags, weld anti-tank hedgehogs and fortify a number of the metropolis’s landmarks. Blockades have been erected at entrances to key streets. Monuments have been lined, prime to backside, with sandbags.

The armed forces, too, have raced to get better from the preliminary assault, which demolished the airport’s important radar station and broken missile defence methods. The Russian strikes “had been meant to destroy them, however they didn’t accomplish their mission,” stated Mr. Trukhanov, a former artillery specialist.

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“At the moment, we’ve got replenished our arsenal, and people methods are working nicely.”

Volunteers fill sandbags to construct barricades throughout Ukraine-Russia battle, within the metropolis of Odesa, Ukraine, on March 6.IGOR TKACHENKO/Reuters

Odesa has lengthy been a favoured metropolis of Russians, who’ve been drawn for hundreds of years to its seashores, its port and its cosmopolitan vitality. Russian stays its dominant language. As lately as final yr, greater than two-thirds of the town expressed assist for the concept Russians and Ukrainians are “one folks.”

“I’m positive two-thirds of Odesans have modified their minds on that now,” Mr. Trukhanov stated.

He has himself been the topic of widespread allegations – which he denies – that he carries a Russian passport. Additionally accused of corruption, Mr. Trukhanov beforehand gained a seat in parliament below the pro-Russia Occasion of Areas whereas it was below the management of Viktor Yanukovych, a former president.

Mr. Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine in 2014, launched an announcement this week urging President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender the struggle.

“You in all probability dream of turning into a real hero!” he wrote. “However heroism just isn’t for present, it isn’t about preventing to the final Ukrainian. It’s in self-sacrifice, in overcoming your individual pleasure and ambitions to avoid wasting folks’s lives.”

Mr. Yanukovych was discovered responsible in absentia of treason for asking the Russian military to assist quell the pro-Western protests that led to his ouster. He has been touted as one among Moscow’s most well-liked replacements for Mr. Zelensky.

In Odesa, the mayor sneered on the former president, condemning him as a puppet whose assertion was “absurd and even treacherous.”

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Above, protecting barricades have been assembled exterior of the Nationwide Educational Theater of Opera and Ballet in Odesa.
Beneath, folks fleeing the town rush to board a prepare at a railway station in Odesa on Wednesday.

“He won’t ever be the chief of Ukraine,” Mr. Trukhanov stated. “He betrayed the Ukrainian folks when he fled. He betrayed the individuals who have been struggling during the last eight years.”

Russia, he stated, has turn out to be incomprehensible to a metropolis that after noticed itself as a part of the Russian world.

Fury now suffuses the town – towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, but additionally Russians who’ve supported the invasion, which Kremlin-controlled state media have described as a liberation of Ukraine.

“The supposed peacekeeping intent of the invader, the claims of pursuing ‘de-Nazification and demilitarization’ of Ukraine whereas destroying peaceable cities and creating tons of of hundreds of refugees – it’s all greater than illogical,” Mr. Trukhanov stated.

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