Ukraine Stories #Week21: 22 killed by Russian shelling in central Ukraine Vinnytsia

Shelling of Mykolaiv on 14 July (Credit: Svitlana Vovk)

In this live blog, at the heart of our project we’ve called “Ukraine Stories”, Ukrainian and Russian journalists write about the harsh living conditions that the Russian invasion has inflicted on them. We cannot always verify the events described in their articles, but their short reports and feature stories describe two countries in the turmoil of war. This blog is also available in Ukrainian and Russian.

Mykolaiv is once again woken up by Russian missiles

Shelling of Mykolaiv on 14 July (Credit: Svitlana Vovk)

By Svitlana Vovk

On 14 July, residents of Mykolaiv were woken up at 5 a.m. to traditional “greetings” from the Russian occupiers.

“According to preliminary information, 9 missiles from the S-300 anti-aircraft system were fired at the regional centre, Vitaly Kim, the head of the region, noted in his Telegram channel. It has damaged two educational institutions, a transport facility and a hotel.”

The hotel which was hit is one of the city's oldest. The missile ripped through  the ceiling of five floors.

“City centre. Mykolaiv Hotel. The building of the shopping and entertainment centre opposite was also damaged by the shock wave and debris,” wrote the mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych on his Telegram channel.

According to him, fortunately, the hotel was no longer used for its intended purpose. The premises were converted into offices which were closed today.

But the hotel had a sentimental value for Mykolaiv residents. They often passed by it or evenworked in its business centre.

The local transport company “Mykolaivelectrotrans” reported on its Facebook page that 18 of its trolleybuses were damaged, 16 of which  were brand new and began serving last year.

Two days ago, on 12 July, Mykolaiv suffered its worst shelling since the start of the war. Vitaly Kim identified 19 missiles, including from Soviet Smerch rocket launchers which created 24 potholes in the city.

Shelling of Mykolaiv on 14 July (Credit: Svitlana Vovk)

22 killed by Russian shelling in central Ukraine Vinnytsia

By Olha Holovina

(Credit: State emergency service)

Three children are among the 22 people that were killed by Russian shelling on Vinnytsia, central Ukraine on 14 July.  52 people, of which 39 are in serious condition, were hospitalized following the attack. At the time of writing, rescuers are still looking for 42 people. The shelling of the city’s central square also damaged 55 buildings and destroyed 40 cars.

“This is Vinnytsia. The deep rear, where many displaced from hot spots fled to. And today, the hot spot is Vinnytsia,” says journalist Tetyana Vysotska.

The first photos from the scene of the tragedy immediately popped up on telegram news channels: a baby carriage with a child's body, bloodied people, mutilated cars.

One Ukrainian serviceman recorded a video in which he talked about the horror he saw.

“The stretcher... there is a child in parts…” he said, barely restraining his emotions, adding in the comment that the dead girl was the same age as his god-daughter.

The Officers' House, which was the main cultural center of the city, also came under fire. Concerts were regularly held there. Ukrainian singer Roxolana was supposed to perform there today in support of Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“During the rocket attacks on Vinnytsia, part of our team was in the centre of the city, all of them were wounded. Zhenya died. Andriy is in serious condition and continues to fight for his life in the operating room... We pray for their lives and the lives of all those affected today,” Roxolana wrote on Instagram.

According to authorities, Russians launched Kalibr missiles from a submarine in the Black Sea.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called this strike a terrorist attack.

“Vinnytsia. Missile attacks on the center of the city. There are wounded and dead, among them a small child. Every day, Russia destroys the civilian population, kills Ukrainian children, and directs rockets at civilian objects. Where there is nothing military. What is this, if not an open terrorist act? Inhuman. A country-murderer. A country-terrorist,” he stressed.

Russian media, in turn, claim that the rocket hit a temporary station for nationalists.”

The couple killed by Russian occupants

Taras and Olha Melster were killed by Russian invaders in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on 21 June. (Credit: Courtesy)

By Liudmyla Makei

This isn’t a fairytale but the story of Taras and Olha Melster, a young married couple from Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine. They were killed by Russians.

Olha was a talented designer and founder of a baking company, Taras was an expert in the IT field.

After Ukraine’s full-scale invasion by Russia on 24 February, they enrolled in the army and left their careers behind. Olha and Taras  served in the same unit, and died on 21 June, near the small village of Borivske, in the Luhansk region. They were both in their early thirties.

“They were supposed to live, raise children, and grow old together. They were supposed to serve the nation with their talents.,” Bishop Mark of Kropyvnytskyi and Holovanivsk said at the funeral. He added, “they are a symbol of Ukraine that Russia is trying to destroy”.

Taras and Olha Melster’s funeral ceremony. (Credit: Courtesy)

The loss of Taras and Olha perhaps affected their mothers the most. Olha’s mother says that she always respected decisions the couple took. When her daughter cut her long hair to stop it from interfering with her bulletproof vest, she didn’t object.

School friend Alisa Chervonenko rehearseda play with them  after school. They danced, sang, and performed together. The three of them also attended leadership classes.

“Olha was one of the best students of the private Jewish school we attended. She was a well-behaved, diligent, and calm girl with big brown eyes. She was very careful and studied well. When we performed plays on the school’s stage, she could easily turn into characters such as Queen Esther,” Alisa said. “Blue-eyed Taras was one of the nicest people to be around. His positivity was contagious and he never harmed anyone. He was kind and always ready to help.”

Five years ago, just before Valentine’s Day, Olha tried her hand at baking gingerbread.

To her surprise, her production did really well, and soon enough she set up her own business.

During the 2014 Euromaidan unrest, Olha and her sister volunteered at the protests in Kropyvnytskyi.

“They were helping non-stop: bringing items and organising things, recalls Zoya Lebid, the headmistress of a local school. I later bumped into Olha and Taras at various events. I became a loyal customer of their small gingerbread business. Both of them were goal-oriented and strong-willed, constantly learning new things.”

The Melster family gave it their all when it came to good deeds. Their charity work was done quietly, without showing off. Even when they went to the frontline, they told their closest family members only.

Solicitor Kostiantyn Dorokhin was a close friend of the Melsters. He is aware that it is common practice to only say good things about the deceased, but in the Melster case, he says, there really is nothing bad to say.

“Taras was one of those people whom you could call in the middle of the night asking for help, and he’d be with you immediately. He was a very sincere, kind, responsive, and brave person. He was a true human being. It was his responsiveness, braveness, and patriotism that made him pick up weapons instead of a computer mouse. Not only is his death an irreparable loss for his family but also to Ukraine,” Kostiantyn said.

Olha and Taras’ unit was sent to defend the area near the Siverskyi Donets River (in the Donbas). They were aware that there would be casualties in their fight against the Russian troops.

That day the enemy was especially active, and the situation on the frontline was changing by the second. The Ukrainian unit suffered severe losses. Olha, Taras, and their fellow unit members were following their supervisor’s command until their lives ended abruptly.

Swiss cereals were once also looted by the Russian army

By Sergei Kariuk

Earlier this spring, CCTV footage from a post office in Belarus became famous. The images show hundreds of Russian soldiers sending home air conditioners, refrigerators, TVs, hundreds of clothes and spare parts — all stolen in Ukraine. Many people were shocked by the footage, but this isn’t the first time Russian soldiers behave this way.

In 1799, Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov of the Russian Empire crossed the Swiss Alps with his troops. His actions are extremely well documented and there are dozens of articles about his achievements.

“How can we forget the suffering and famine caused by the passing of this army in our region. Villagers had to support thousands of men, and provide cereals, fodder, bread, meat and wine - not to mention forced loans, which no one ever returned to us”, writes Vicari Francesco in “Suvorov's Campaign through the Swiss Alps in 1799”.

A few years later, Russian soldiers themselves wrote about their plundering in Napoleon's France, in Champagne.

“The castle of Brienne [...] was given over to looting [...]. Among other things, we found a unique library and a curiosity cabinet. On the wall hung a crocodile, and someone had the strange idea of cutting the ropes that held it. The huge African beast crashed with a terrible sound into the cabinets in which shells, minerals and various animals were displayed. The laughter that accompanied the destruction of an expensive and time-consuming collection was truly cannibalistic”, describes Lieutenant General Alexander Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky in “Notes from 1814”.

The successors of this looting method was the Red Army. After the Second World War, when Soviet Marshal Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov was dismissed by Stalin, authorities found huge amounts of European stolen goods in his house. He had accumulated 194 valuable pieces of furniture, 483 furs, 4,000 metres of fabric, 44 carpets, 55 museum pictures, and 7 crystal boxes.

Later, in the 1990s, the army even looted its own country in Chechnya, where cars, furniture, household appliances, clothes, shoes and utensils were confiscated from residents. Those who failed to loot Chechnya made money during the 2008 Georgian war. The latest generation of the army is now doing the same in Ukraine.

Sergei Kariuk is a Ukrainian journalist for the television channel 2+2. He is also a scriptwriter and editor, as well as the author of crime novels.

What conclusions for Ukrainian businesses after Lugano

By Mariana Tsymbaliuk

The international conference on the restoration of Ukraine in Lugano not only gathered authorities and diplomats. Ukrainian businesses were also there.

Kateryna Glazkova at the conference in Lugano. (Credit: Ukrainian-Swiss Business Association)

“The mood after the conference is elevated due to the huge support of Ukraine from international partners. But, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We have to win this war and not just restore, but create a new country that is a full member of the European Union,” says Kateryna Glazkova, executive director of the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs.

According to her, despite its neutrality, Switzerland's support for Ukraine is impressive.

“During the conference in Lugano, the World Bank announced the creation of the Multi-Donor Resources for Institutions and Infrastructure for Ukraine facility. We are grateful that Switzerland volunteered to make the first contribution for this fund,” Glazkova notes.

According to her, Switzerland played a role in Ukraine’s digitalisation, especially for the creation of “Diya”. The application stores important documents such as  passports and delivers official certificates without having to go to government agencies.

In the future, according to the entrepreneur, campaigns aimed at "green" production will benefit from work in Ukraine.

“Switzerland will invest in public and private projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in various Ukrainian industries, including  infrastructure, construction, transport and energy. The Implementation of the Paris Agreement will create incentives for Ukrainian business to develop sustainably,” she says.

For the president of the Ukrainian-Swiss Business Association, Dmytro Sidenko, there are still fears to do business in Ukraine due to corruption, but the situation is improving.

Dmytro Sydenko at the conference in Lugano. (Credit: Ukrainian-Swiss Business Association)

“I can’t claim that corruption is the main problem - in recent years I have seen positive changes in the Ukrainian economy, particularly in the fight against corruption,” he says.

Uliana Pereskotska, board member of the Ukrainian-Swiss Business Association, agrees that there are problems in the interaction between businesses and the state in her country. But she believes the Swiss experience can be helpful.

“What we can learn and adopt in Switzerland is healthy lobbying. Among Swiss members of the federal or cantonal parliaments, it is normal practice to have a main job in business, combined with a representative function. The advantage is that they bring the best practices from business to the public sector,” says Pereskotska.

However, she emphasises that reporting, transparency and effective sanctions in case of violations are necessary.

Homemade cars for Ukraine’s Armed Forces

by Maksym Khotilenko

Vitaliy Bryzgalov and his friends have been making drones since 2014. At that time, when Ukraine was attacked by Russia, the Ukrainian army was unprepared and under-trained. Citizens equipped soldiers by all possible means to resist their neighbour.

Eight years of war later, Bryzgalov has updated his skill set and now makes military vehicles.

“We understood that our soldiers are catastrophically short of vehicles, so we decided to start a project ironically called CTRLZ,” he said. The name of the project is a reference to the computer command to undo an action. According to Bryzgalov, their vehicles can undo the enemy.

The manufacturers say that their low-cost, low-maintenance vehicle can drive on any road and surface. To create it, Bryzgalov and his friends use spare parts from Soviet Russian cars called VAZ.

“This old classic is our base because it’s cheap and because there are a lot of spare parts around,” CTRLZ producers explained.

“We make Buggies that can go on reconnaissance missions, that can evacuate people, and if needed, you can even shoot from this car,” noted Bryzgalov.

At no more than 2,500 CHF per unit, the vehicles are cheap and simple. The group is currently planning to produce 10. They are convinced that fast and low-maintenance buggies can significantly increase Ukrainian soldiers’ mobility.

“We are working on five cars at once and collecting money for the remaining buggies. We’re getting support, which is encouraging for our team,” said Bryzgalov.

Outside the buggies, the volunteers are also developing mine detectors, kamikaze drones, and an electric transporter.

Simplified procedure for Ukrainians to become Russian

On Monday 11 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that allows every Ukrainian citizen to apply for Russian citizenship, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti.

Since May, Ukrainians from the occupied regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson have been able to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified way “for humanitarian purposes”.

How a Ukrainian surgeon works during the war

Maksym Ponomarenko with the patient (Credit: Maksym Ponomarenko)

by Maksym Khotilenko

Maksym Ponomarenko is one of the best children's surgeons in Ukraine. The war hasn’t affected the flow of patients.

“My little patients can’t wait for the shelling to end, for silence to come. They need help right now, he says. These are seriously ill children from all over the country, who have not been able to get surgery elsewhere.”

The surgeon knows the consequences of war, as he had to move from Donetsk to Kyiv in 2014.

“It was the most difficult decision in my life. My parents did not want to leave and we had a big fight. But it was important for me to work in Ukraine, because I am a patriot” says the doctor.

On 24 February at 6 a.m., when Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were being shelled by the Russian army, the surgeon continued to work at Okhmatdyt hospital, the country’s biggest  children’s hospital.

It was really difficult to operate in winter and spring, when Russian troops were close to Kyiv. In the first three months of the conflict, he conducted 120 surgeries.

“When the sirens go off, most doctors go down to the bomb shelter and continue to provide assistance there. But it’s impossible for me to do the same if I have a child lying on the operating table”, says the surgeon.

His most memorable operation remains that of 16 March, when a Russian rocket flew near his hospital: “Before being operated on, a wounded child said her biggest dream was to ride a bicycle. And so, for the first time in my practice, I allowed my patient to ride a bicycle in the operating room. There and then, I just cried”, says Ponomarenko.

The doctor is confident that even if rockets fly into the windows of the hospital, he will continue to work.