Death, destruction and shortages: life in semi-besieged Mykolaiv

Locals queue to receive their "grocery card" in Mykolaiv, south of Ukraine. (Credit: Oleksii Platonov)

Despite constant shelling and being under partial siege, Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv continues to function. Public transport is operating, medical centres and shops are open, government services are working, and drinking water is being supplied.

As the police and authorities document damages in the city, the cost of restoration is believed to be millions of euros.

Death and destruction

At the same time, the entrance to the city from the occupied Kherson region is closed off. People who try to escape by car are being forced to go through a filtration camp but can’t get through it.

Cluster shells, which are normally used after 9pm, cause damage to residential buildings, infrastructure of the city and region, and kill humans and animals.

On 6 June, 49-year-old Anzhela buried her own mother, Nina, who died after a shelling attack.

Anzhela says goodbye to her mother Nina. (Credit: courtesy)
“It was the day of the first cluster shelling attack on a children’s playground. I sent my daughter Diana to Kyiv the next day because it is safer at the moment, but my mother stayed with me,” said Anzhela. “She suddenly fell ill on the night of 2 June and died from a heart attack at 7 a.m. on 3 June.”

Anzhela said that the 76-year-old Nina was in “entirely good health”, and it was the “stress of what she went through” that killed her.

In addition, an earlier shelling attack destroyed Anzhela’s flat, luckily sparing her cat and hamster.

Anzhela's destroyed kitchen. (Credit: courtesy)

Food and water

Tetiana said that many pensioners in Mykolaiv are now burdened with supporting their children and grandchildren in addition to providing for themselves.

“The constant sirens destroy your nervous system, so many youngsters have left the city. It is mostly the pensioners who have stayed. The young people in the city lost their jobs and have to live on the pensioners’ money as no other social payments are made,” she said.

Tetiana, a pensioner herself, now has to help her 38-year-old son and his wife. But even for pensioners, surviving has become no small feat.

“It took me two days to receive the so-called grocery card. The first day, I queued for five hours to find out that the registration office had closed for the day. On the next day, I joined the queue at 5:30 a.m. and received the card by lunchtime,” Tetiana recalled.

The card allows to claim a loaf of bread and a tin with “some tasteless contents” three times a week, according to her. But even then, the food queue takes three hours, while the one for drinking water takes one hour.

Shortages and closures

Fuel and gas prices have all gone up. Diesel used to cost 26 to 30 hryvnias (0.86 to 0.99 Swiss francs) but has now nearly tripled. Kilometre-long queues form outside petrol stations. Local authorities promised that they would stabilise the situation but this is yet to happen. Other goods and services have become more expensive as a result of the increased petrol prices.

A missiled that struck Mykolaiv, south of Ukraine. (Credit: Oleksii Platonov)
The city is also out of rock salt, which is used by some for food preservation, since the closing of the Artemsol salt mine in the Donetsk region. Due to its scarcity, the household item’s price has also tripled.

However, a mobile hospital has been opened in the region and runs on generators. Local doctors are also able to consult with counterparts outside of Ukraine, thanks to StarLink, a system which allows satellite internet connection despite the destruction of communication infrastructures.

Hopes for the future

For the head of the regional military administration, Vitaliy Kim, better times are coming. “Ukraine is due to receive long-range missiles,” he notes.

The T-72 tanks from the Czech Republic were already delivered and are being operated by Ukraine’s armed forces between Kherson and Mykolaiv.

Ukraine’s minister of defence, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, also confirmed that the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions have anti-ship missiles that protect them from a landing operation in the Black Sea by Russia.

Destroyed building in Mykolaiv, south of Ukraine. (Credit: Oleksii Platonov)
Kim highlighted there is no danger of a blitzkrieg by Russia, as it would take the country “months” to get to the city. The Russian army does not even feel motivated to seize Mykolaiv, according to Kim, as the soldiers know that the city would “greet them with death”.