‘The West can change the outcome’: plea for heavy weapons on the Ukrainian frontline | Ukraine
A a pile of deadly weapons lines the hallway next to Roman Kostenko’s office in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Giant tube-shaped Javelin missiles and a powerful green cylinder. “It’s an NLAW anti-tank weapon supplied by Britain,” said Kostenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and commander of special forces. “We used it.”
When Russia invaded on February 24, Kostenko was in Kyiv. He swapped his suit and tie politician outfit for a uniform and rushed to Mykolaiv on the southern front line. By this point, Russian troops had virtually surrounded the city and its port on the Bug River. They had captured Mykolaiv airport and were advancing from the northeast. “I was the last car to come in,” he said.
Citizens stacked tires and made molotov cocktails in preparation for street-to-street fighting. The Ukrainian army, however, succeeded in repelling the Russians. Kostenko showed a video he took from a Russian position on the outskirts of Mykolaiv. There were bodies of enemy soldiers killed in a Ukrainian artillery strike, as well as field guns and abandoned vehicles.
Since that failed incursion, the fighting has turned into a “rocket and artillery war”, Kostenko said. The southern front line runs roughly along the administrative border between the Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast and Mykolaiv, 20 km to the north. It is a shimmering landscape of green wheat fields and steppe villages, now under constant fire.
Russian howitzers can target Mykolaiv easily. On Saturday, a missile slammed into a residential building in the city, killing one person and injuring seven others. The Ukrainians lack long-range rocket systems that would allow them to retaliate, as well as defensive anti-aircraft batteries, Kostenko said. In the meantime, they sit in makeshift trenches under fire.
“Surviving artillery hitting you 24/7 is very difficult,” Kostenko added. The javelins sent by the United States were ineffective because the Russians hid their armored vehicles in a network of Soviet-era irrigation canals, he said. “Our anti-tank weapons don’t see them. If our partners give us heavy artillery and advanced systems like the MRLS [multiple-launch rocket systems] we can win and retake the occupied territory.
For now, Ukrainian soldiers can only achieve local tactical gains. On Monday, they recaptured a village northeast of Kherson. Kostenko said Russia still has plenty of tanks and ammunition. The fighting in the south, and in the east where a battle is raging for the city of Sievierodonetsk, resembled World War II with modern weapons, he said. The Russians, he admits, had the advantage.
The MP, secretary of the national security, defense and intelligence committee, spent 15 years as a soldier. He was wounded twice in late 2014 while fighting at Donetsk airport against the Russians and their separatist proxies. He grew up in a village outside Kherson, now controlled by Moscow, where Russian soldiers broke into his parents’ house, looted his parade uniform and took all the furniture, he said. declared.
Kostenko suggested Vladimir Putin’s goal was to take over Donbass and annex Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, making it a ‘sealess country’, after failing in his initial goal of overthrowing the government of Kyiv to bring Ukraine back under Russian influence and to demonstrate Moscow’s army. invincibility.
A member of the pro-European liberal Golos party, he praised the UK, the US and Poland: “We love Boris Johnson. Britain is a country that has clearly asserted its position. She remains true to her values. He is not afraid of the Russian Federation. We have several British volunteers fighting with us. The entire civilized world is fighting Russia, not just Ukraine.
He was less enthusiastic about Germany and France. “Some of our partners are behaving very cautiously. It’s inexplicable. They don’t call the enemy. We are fighting totalitarianism,” an exasperated Kostenko said.
The residents of Mykolaiv, meanwhile, have become accustomed to the thundering booms, which rock the city every hour. For more than a month there was no water after a pipeline was destroyed. Last week, a power supply for washing was finally reconnected. There is no drinking water. It is delivered to the city, an important shipbuilding center in the days of the USSR, in large plastic bottles. About 40% of its population left.
A humanitarian aid point has been set up in a ruined 200-year-old theater and concert hall once used by naval officers. There are supplies of clothes, shoes and medicine. Residents complete a form explaining what they need. Viktoria Veselovska, a journalist working in a pop-up pharmacy in the basement, said she had no mosquito repellent. “Insects are a big problem for our soldiers,” she said.
The morale of those who have decided to stay in bombed-out Mykolaiv seems high. Olga Pidsosonna, a volunteer and major in the port customs service, described the war as “a very long bad day”. “Russia is trying to eat us. But he will break his teeth. We are a very strong nation. I am proud to be Ukrainian and I am proud of our army and our volunteers,” she said.
In peacetime, 10 cargo ships a day would leave the port of Mykolaiv, she said. Most exported cereals. The Russian naval blockade of the Black Sea rendered the port inoperative. A Ukrainian victory should include Crimea, “stolen by the Kremlin in 2014,” Pidsosonna said, adding: “I have family in Crimea. They want to be back with Ukraine. They can’t say that openly, of course. They are afraid.
Few people in this city of half a million expected to find themselves in an old-fashioned war zone. Makar Kostiuk, a student from Vladivostok, was not surprised by how 2022 turned out. Kostiuk volunteered in the local office of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. He left the country for Ukraine before Navalny was arrested and imprisoned.
“When the bombs started falling, I was working on my second novel. The explosions made me hit faster,” Kostiuk said. Shrapnel landed in his yard, ripping a hole in the glass of the stairwell. Kostiuk said he did not encounter any anti-Russian bias. But his bank cards had been blocked and he risked having to leave Ukraine this summer when his residence permit expired.
Many shops on Mykolaiv’s main street, Sobornaya, were closed. Canned music played through speakers attached to maple trees. A few people were shopping and a man in lycra passed by on his mountain bike. Much destruction was visible. A dropped bomb had leveled the Ingul Hotel. In March, the Russians fired a cruise missile at the regional administration building, killing 12 people and wounding 33.
Nobody knows when the Ukrainian army will be able to retake Kherson, which was invaded in the first days of the invasion. The Kremlin says the region now belongs to Russia. He recently banned residents from fleeing and mined the road leading to Mykolaiv. Plans to hold a membership “referendum” in Moscow have been shelved due to a lack of public support. “Ninety-nine percent of the country doesn’t want Russia,” the MP said.
Kostenko gave the Guardian a souvenir: a shredded fragment of a Russian Kalibr warhead, which he carefully wrapped in kitchen paper. “Victory now depends on our international friends,” he said. “We have a lot of Kalashnikovs and machine guns. If we get enough heavy weapons, Russia won’t be able to go any further. He stressed, “The West can change the outcome of this war.”