BASHTANKA.- Olexander Beregovyi is 40 years old and is one of the many mayors of small towns who, during the first phase of the “special operation” of Vladimir Poutinein March, made history. With no military experience, as Bashtanka was about to be taken, he led a small army of just over a hundred Territorial Defense Forces (FTD) civilians who held off the invaders. Made up of neighbours, elected officials and farmers, with determination, patriotism and courage, it succeeded in resisting the advance of the Russians at a central point in southern Ukraine, where until now Putin conquered only neighboring region and city of Kherson.
Here we are north of Mykolaiv, a crucial city for Don’t let Odessa down which is very close to Kherson, and southwest of Kryvyj Rih, where the president was born, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Beyond this feat, which added his name to this list of mayor-heroes who stopped the enemy in strategic areas of Ukraine, Beregovy admits that it is impossible to claim victory. and recognize that he fears that the Russians will return at any moment.
“Only the dead are not afraid. We’re normal, living people, so it’s okay to be scared, but we are ready to face the Russians again and again, if necessary“, He says. “And this time we are better armed, so we are ready to face them even better”, adds, in an interview with THE NATION in the town hall office, a building that has become the headquarters of another war zone.
Not only he, in the best Zelensky style, is dressed in military green clothes, but all the officials, men and women, whom we meet there and on the streets of Bashtanka. Several portable bazooka rocket launchers are visible on his office table, and outside, dozens of FTD soldiers guard the place, the entrance to which is covered with military camouflage netting.
“I know very well that I am the target of the Russians, who have been humiliated here: not only lost a lot of expensive war material, weapons, vehicles, as well as troops, but also we captured 28 of their soldiers“, assures the mayor, who displays the usual optimism of those who occupy management positions in this invaded ex-Soviet republic. “Ukrainians are famous for being a very brave people, we are Cossacks, we are a nation of warriors. Yes We know how to do two things well: to fight and to cultivate the land. So, when the enemy is there, we fight well and when the enemy is not, we can feed our families and the world”, declares the mayor, who before being elected at the head of Bashtanka there a year and a half, was the head of a small agricultural business.
Father of two young children who, together with his wife, were evacuated to another location – which of course he does not want to reveal for security reasons – the mayor cannot say how many people died in the fighting here nor where were the prisoners taken from the Russian war.
Were the war crimes committed here, as happened in Bucha, Irpin and other towns north of kyiv, crucial at the time for the capital not to fall? “Here the Russians didn’t have time to commit atrocities because we chased them away right away,” answers the mayor, who shows on his mobile phone the photo of a Russian soldier lying in the street and images of the destruction left by the invaders who, he admits, are on the lookout.
“A few weeks ago our hospital was bombed and we know they will probably come back because Bashtanka is a key place, the point from which the Russians can advance everywhere“, To explain.
Faithful reflection that the cards are not played and that the situation is more than fluid in this city located an hour’s drive from Mykolaiv – which was attacked again this morning – the mayor prefers not to appear on a map of his city to give details of the current military situation.
But just by visiting Bashtanka – which had a population of 12,000 and is now half empty, as 70% have left and very few have started to return – it is clear that everyone is preparing for a new offensive. The coming and going of trucks of regular army soldiers is impressive, as well as military trucks carrying the legendary Soviet-made Katyusha missiles and other logistical items.
Vitaly Homersky, the mayor’s right-hand man, an MP from the Mykolaiv region and someone who also led that small army of civilians that ousted the Russians in March, also acknowledges that there is still nothing to celebrate. And he admits to being worried. “We think Ukraine will win and we will do everything for them, but unfortunately we fear that the Russian forces will return because we have inside information, intelligence, that they are clustering nearby… So we are waiting to see what happens,” he said, declining to give further details.
Although in the center, which houses a traditional Orthodox church with golden round domes, the carcasses of the tanks marked with the fateful “Z” and other Russian military vehicles have already been removed, remnants of the assault, the signs of destruction are obvious. As in many other places, the Russians aimed at civilian targets. Two downtown pharmacies were destroyed and charred by artillery fire. One of them is next to an old Soviet mosaic that recalls the deeds of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel in space, which is incredibly still intact.
Passing by and seeing journalists, an older woman with a headscarf and gold teeth, he bursts out with all his indignation. “Look what they did to us! Did they come to liberate Ukraine? Can you see what the special operation of those stupid bastards did? How could they do this to us? It’s horrible ! he yells, pointing at the flattened pharmacy, while pushing a stroller carrying vegetables.
“I remember when the Nazis were here during World War II, I was 10,” add. “But then it wasn’t as terrible as it is now!” We’ve been building and fixing this town for years and they came and destroyed it! “says this woman who says her name is Ludmila, with tears in her eyes. “They shouldn’t have done that!” Should not! They should not ! he repeats again and again as he walks away.
Nearby, in a kiosk selling coffee, there is a group of Ukrainian army soldiers, armed to the teeth and looking tired, next to their truck, which is not a military vehicle, but a normal white car. To better understand what is going on in this war zone, we tried to talk to one of them. Although he obviously can’t give any information, he finally reveals that we are closer to the front line than we thought in this exchange:
– Are they from the battle front?
-I can not answer.
-If they are there, it means that the front is near.
-I can not answer.
-How’s the weather up front?
– More or less like here.