Putin managed to enrage his last supporters in Ukraine – NBCNEWS

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ODESA, Ukraine – Russia has bombed the coast city ​​of Odessa since the earliest days of his war in Ukraine—but the critical grain harbor has become a symbol of ongoing local resistance, where even former pro-Russian heroes now embrace Ukrainian patriotism.

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“The longer the war lasts, the less people sympathize with Russia in Ukraine. Those who spoke Russian in everyday life are switching to Ukrainian,” Yevgeny Kisilyev, a longtime observer of Ukrainian politics, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “Even the most openly pro-Russian politicians, including the mayor of Odessa… are passionate enemies of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”

Odessa, with its vast grain storage and transportation resources, is a sought-after target for Moscow. Russian missiles have been destroying the city since the early days of the war. In March and April, rockets killed dozens of civilians, including a three-month-old baby, Kira Glodan, her mother and her grandmother.

The tragedy infuriated Odessa, but the carnage did not end. On July 1, one of the rockets hit an apartment building in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, killing 19 people. Weeks later, on July 20, “Russia fired eight multimillion-dollar missiles that shot down our troops along with a Russian drone,” South Defense Forces spokeswoman Natalya Humeniuk told The Daily Beast in a statement last week. interview.

The relentless attacks from Russia have hardened local feelings against Putin. “During the first week of the war, Odessa mayor Gennady Trukhanov – many believed to have a Russian passport – said nothing against Moscow,” local activist Julia Grodetskaya told The Daily Beast. “So concerned citizens consolidated and patriotic volunteers worked hard to defend the city. Their actions and the constant Russian violence have changed leadership and made local authorities more patriotic,” she said, adding that “all former pro-Russian Odesans are ready to defend our city.”

That’s not how Moscow had planned it. On the eve of the war, one of the Kremlin’s ideologues, Sergei Markov, told The Daily Beast that Russian troops would easily take Odessa. “There will be a rapid marine landing, supported by a pro-Russian underground,” Markov predicted about the development of the war on the Black Sea.

After a rocket attack on a warehouse of an industrial and commercial company in Odessa on July 16.

Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty

Instead, Odessa became a symbol of resistance – and that pro-Russian underground melted away. As thousands of displaced persons from neighboring Mykolaiv and Russian-occupied Kherson flocked to the city, locals put up huge, patriotic banners warning messages about possible saboteurs and spies. One of them showed a Ukrainian slitting a spy’s throat: “Get ready, we know all your routes.” More banners in Pushkinska and Bunin streets read: “If anyone touches Mama Odessa, Mama will bury them.”

Odessa also made the decision to remove all street names from the “aggressor country” – though it rejected a petition signed by 25,000 people calling on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to demolish local monuments to Catherine the Great and Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. . The city said it was not the right time to discuss the pre-revolutionary monuments. Nevertheless, the city’s mayor, Trukhanov, said it was cynical of Moscow to describe Ukraine as “brother people” but destroy it with missiles. “Odesa has suffered losses in this war and we want nothing to do with a state that is trying to erase our city, our country from the face of the earth,” the mayor said in a public statement last month.

Now, even as Russia continues to bomb Odessa, there are signs of vibrant life everywhere. In the harbor, yachts rock gently in the late afternoon sun, although they all remain in the harbor this season, as the Russians have planted mines in the surrounding waters. Yet the marina of the Yacht Club is buzzing: on a recent Friday, musicians from the local opera and philharmonic theater gave a concert of Ukrainian songs to an audience of famous artists, writers and experienced businessmen, who formed two powerful volunteer movements in the early days of the war. – Called On the Wave and Sandbox – to save their beautiful, graceful city. They surrounded cultural monuments with sandbags, distributed armored vests and welded tank barriers.

Ukraine is preparing to ship 16 ships full of grain to the Turkish port of Izmir to end a long economic drought for the city. Odessens looked at the smooth and barren Black Sea on Sunday. The first grain ship is scheduled to depart Monday, but many fear Russia could attack the ships, despite Moscow’s agreements with Turkey. “Our favorite sea is like a battlefield,” Dmitro Botskevsky, a retired skipper, told The Daily Beast. “Our military drone attacked the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol today, of course there are concerns about the safety of the passage for the grain.”

Local defense volunteers — led by the Yacht Club’s director, Albert Kobakov — grew in number as the war dragged on. Hundreds of activists joined. “When the war started, I came here to show that I’m not going to surrender,” said local activist Maya Dimereli. She and Grodetskaya said the main concern in the first week of the war was that the city government would betray Odessa and hand it over to Russia.

The aftermath of a rocket attack on the village of Serhiivka, Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi district, Odessa region of Ukraine on July 1.

State Emergency Services of Ukraine via Reuters

Instead, Odessa’s businessmen felt committed to helping their city. From the owner of a perfume shop, Dmitry Malyutin, to the founder of a tourism company, historian Aleksandr Babich, the city’s elite opened their doors and supported the volunteers. “If it hadn’t been for our society, I’m not sure how long our resistance would have lasted. Their self-organization is fascinating and time is against Putin – he violently bombs Mykolaiv, but Odessa is his problem,” Sevgil Musaieva, editor-in-chief of Ukrainskaya Pravda, Ukraine’s legendary newspaper, told The Daily Beast. “Politically we win the war – the whole world supports Ukraine.”

Thousands of volunteers also volunteered as soldiers in the territorial defense units, as Odessa was well aware of the threat of a possible ambush by Russian troops from Transnistria on the one hand and the advancing Russian army on the other. Captain Humeniuk, an officer of the Ukrainian State Border Guard and the voice of the administration of the armed forces in Ukraine’s southern region, told The Daily Beast that the city needed enough volunteers to fill one brigade – and instead got enough to fill three to fill. .

So for now Odessa lives in a state of tentative hope. The chief commander of operations in the south, Major General Andriy Kovalchuk, has served in peacekeeping missions in Liberia and the former Yugoslavia. Now Kovalchuk and other military authorities are guarding the city with care, explaining to people why beaches have been cleared and closed, and providing updates about the war twice a day. The city’s restaurants and cafe-porches are crowded, and although air-raid sirens blare several times a day, on any given day a visitor can hear a band singing Ukrainian songs on the central Deribasovskaya Avenue, and jazz music playing in the garden of the Het home of the Tolstoy family.

“We are going to win this battle like we did World War II,” promises a Russian-speaking theater director named Anna, whose Jewish family witnessed the Nazi invasion. Before this war, she liked to say she had a “Russian soul.” But now she says: “Odesa, the first Hero City of the USSR, will also win this battle” – but this time against Moscow.

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