Journalists are rarely allowed to report from Ochakiv as it’s under the Ukrainian government’s regime of operational silence.
However, Euromaidan Press, The Guardian, and Byline Times teams recently were permitted to visit the area. Below, Ochakiv Mayor Serhii Bychkov, speaks with EP’s Zarina Zabrisky on the same day, April 7, that the Russian military blasted the city with artillery and mortars.
Russia also holds the nearby Kinburn Spit to influence grain shipments, says Natalia Humeniuk, head of the United Coordinating Press Center of Security and Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine.
Town survives, despite Russian shells: Ochakiv Mayor Serhii Bychkov
Euromaidan Press: What happened in Ochakiv today (April 7)?
Serhii Bychkov: The Russian military fired 72 artillery and mortar shells at the city and 50 shells at the water area around it. They used Soviet-made multiple-launch rocket systems, BM-21 Grad (122 mm caliber), as well as cluster munitions launched by MLRS BM-27 Uragan (220 mm caliber), and incendiary projectiles. Today was one of the heaviest attacks, yet our population is used to it. On 6 a.m., 24 February 2022, we saw two Kaliber missiles. Since then, it has never stopped.
#Ochakiv: Russians shower civilians with MLRS, using banned incendiary projectiles and cluster bombs.
Kinburn Spit is a tip of a strategically important peninsula in the South of Ukraine. Recently, Ukraine made gains there.
More about Kinburn Spit soon. https://t.co/VW01qASCUn
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) April 8, 2023
Euromaidan Press: What was life in Ochakiv before the full-scale Russian invasion of 2022?
Serhii Bychkov: Ochakiv used to be beautiful, a resort town with many tourists and kids. We had eight kilometers of beaches, and that’s aside from the Kinburn Spit, a national nature preserve with 30 km of beaches. Many kinds of birds, pink pelicans, cranes, and swans, come to breed in the bay. I still can see them flying over our heads, but the Russians occupy the Kinburn Spit. Access to the beaches in the Ochakiv region is banned for civilians. In Ochakiv, people are still fishing in the river but not in the sea. The marine ecology is damaged by shelling. The incendiary projectiles and other weapons that use chemicals are a factor. There were some dead dolphins at the seashore. Perhaps, people are still fishing in the Kinburn Spit.
Euromaidan Press: What do you think about the Russian invasion and the future of Ochakiv?
Serhii Bychkov: Nobody expected such a massive attack. We had no plans to attack Russia. We had our own lives and issues here. Our people were killed on the first day of a full-scale invasion. Overall, Ochakiv had 18 civilian casualties. On 9 January 2023, a three-year-old child died of a heart attack during a massive strike. We are defending our country, and they must realize we will win. Our territory will be completely liberated.
Ukraine is on the path to democracy, and we chose the European path. We lived under the Soviet Union and are sick of it; there is no way back for us. Each president of Ukraine carried a tail of mistakes behind them, and the situation was snowballing. Now, President Zelenskyy has to deal with it. That’s his lot in life, but he is dealing with it well. And we are supporting him. Europe and the US gave Ukraine a chance to start it all over. We can clean our corruption and fix our old problems; if we can do it, a great bright future awaits us. If we can’t do it, nobody will help us anymore. We need to take this chance and bring up our youth accordingly.
Euromaidan Press: What are the main challenges for Ochakiv region civilians living in such proximity to the Russian positions?
Serhii Bychkov: Based on the humanitarian aid distribution, about 7,000 people still live in Ochakiv. Some left, and some are coming back. We still have 800 children in town, and they study online. In-person schools in war zones are not permitted by law in Ukraine. Ochakiv has running water, and power, even though sometimes we run on generators. The drinking wells in Ochakiv are 100 m deep, and the water is clean. We deliver humanitarian aid.
One of the main problems is safety: The Russians can move their positions to the tip of the Kinburn Spit, which is very close to Ochakiv and the surrounding area. Cannon artillery and MLRS reach the target in only 12-15 seconds. The Russians are shelling mostly in the dark or during twilight to avoid being attacked by our artillery. So Ochakiv residents have to sleep in basements and shelters. We help those who want to leave and ask residents to stay in basements during air raids. The city has built concrete bomb shelters where people can spend the night. Overall, people have adjusted. They move fast when outside. After sundown, it is dark in Ochakiv. Everyone must stay inside during the curfew from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Overall, people are standing strong and supporting our army. In Ochakiv, the general trend is switching to Ukrainian from Russian, but we speak many languages. Only those who are seeking conflicts are looking into the language question.
The population of the Kinburn Spit, an administrative part of the Ochakiv district, used to be 800 before the full-scale invasion. Currently, there are approximately 130 in one village and 50 in another. The total number is about 200 living under occupation. The majority are senior citizens. We used to deliver humanitarian aid to the villages on the Kinburn Spit, but it became too dangerous. Life at the Kinburn Spit is hard. People are subjected to passport checks. They can be detained. Overall, we have very little information about the state of affairs there.
Euromaidan Press: What is your message to the world community, and how can it help Ochakiv?
Serhii Bychkov: It’s simple: Terrorism must be destroyed. International law can’t be broken just because someone out there got some ideas about the world order. As for the help, we are grateful and definitely feel the world’s support.
What else can be done for Ochakiv? Stop the war. Together, we can do it. Russia is a nuclear state, and it’s complicated, but we can stop it. Reason should win over insanity, or we will lose the planet.
Russia attempts to block more food exports: Ukrainian defense forces
Euromaidan Press: What is the situation around Ochakiv and the Kinburn Spit?
Natalia Humeniuk: The Kinburn Spit is a long, narrow strip of land in the Black Sea near the city of Ochakiv, in Mykolaiv Oblast. It is a part of the Kinburn peninsula, which is a part of the Kherson Oblast. The peninsula is connected to the left bank of the Dnipro River, where Russian troops are located.
The Ukrainian army can reach the Russian positions at the tip of the spit and destroy them with artillery fire. We had already defeated their positions there and cleared this territory in the first week of April, so they withdrew to the peninsula. We couldn’t do the amphibious landing because crossing the estuary on boats would be too dangerous for our military. We cleared them out with counter-battery fire. From the peninsula, they cannot reach Ochakiv. As a result, there was no shelling for a couple of days. However, they can still pull up forces to the very tip of the Kinburn Spit.
On April 7, they gathered all their strength to oppose the military and the civilian population in Ochakiv. These new crimes of the Russian Federation in the Ochakiv region are a rude reaction of the Russian military to the successes of the Ukrainian army on the Kinburn Spit.
Their goal is to demonstrate: “Look, your military hurt us; we will hurt you. Who is to blame for the shelling? Ukrainian military.”
It is a Russian tactic: they are trying, by all means, to prove that the Ukrainian army are terrorists. They are trying to convey to the whole world their false narrative: that the Ukrainian army is the enemy of its own people. However, our army and people are as united as it is possible to be. Our people understand that when our military does a great job destroying the invaders’ units, the Russians will take revenge on civilians. People understand this. That is why on April 7 in Ochakiv, there were not as many victims as the Russians expected. People take shelter.
The Russian Federation is a terrorist state. Look at what is happening in the de-occupied right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. People are suffering so severely. They are trying to return to their normal lives and resume agriculture and production – and the enemy brazenly destroys that.
Not only have they (Russians) mined large areas of land, but they are aiming at these areas with aerial bombs and activating the mines in the ground. They fly their planes from the left bank of the Dnipro River, avoiding the Ukrainian air defense strike zones. Therefore, their (Russian) planes cannot be damaged. They release a guided bomb into a mined field, and the detonation leads to multiple mine explosions and sets in motion other explosive mechanisms. This is terrorism.
The Russians use MLRS to fire incendiary projectiles prohibited by international conventions when used against civilians. The interaction of such projectiles with damaged gas pipelines can lead to a disaster.
Euromaidan Press: What is the importance of Ochakiv and the Kinburn Spit to the Russian Federation?
Natalia Humeniuk: The Russian Federation holds on to the Kinburn Spit to influence the “grain deal.” The Russian government presents the case to make it appear that Russia wants to save the world and deliver much-needed food to countries experiencing a food crisis. Yet, the work of the grain corridor is a two-way economic situation: assistance to countries that need to solve the food problem and a solution to the development of the Ukrainian economy.
In February, the Ukrainian side openly declared that it wanted the Mykolaiv ports to join the grain corridor. Russia wants to sell its own grain instead of adding the Mykolaiv seaports capacities to the existing agreement. The Russians shell Ochakiv because they realize that if Mykolaiv became a “grain deal” seaport, the UN and Türkiye would monitor the safe passage of the ships and try to ban the attacks on Mykolaiv Oblast. The ports of Odesa, Yuzhne, and Chornomorsk are included in the grain agreement and are, for the most part, secure. Attacks on Odesa do happen, but the Russians are afraid to attack (in) the direction of the port.
To prevent this new development with the Mykolaiv ports, the Russians move artillery equipment to the tip of the Kinburn Spit and start massive shelling of the Ochakiv district.
Consequently, at the moment, we cannot ensure the safety of ship passages from Mykolaiv. The situation in the city itself is stable, but the vessels must pass between Ochakiv and the Kinburn Spit.
Euromaidan Press: What are the next steps of the Ukrainian military in the region?
Natalia Humeniuk: We monitor the adversary’s actions and try to keep them under fire control. The next step is to destroy the corridor to the left bank of the Kherson Oblast. However, to accomplish this plan, we need long-range artillery. At the moment, we lack weapons that we know for sure will not affect the local population. There may be several hundred Ukrainians there; we cannot and do not want to destroy them. We want to strike to destroy only the occupying troops, weapons, and their places of deployment. This is the nature of this war. The Ukrainian military cannot drop an aerial bomb to destroy territory for several kilometers around. This is why we need long-range artillery and high-precision projectiles.