MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — The short thump, thump of outgoing Ukrainian artillery echoes by means of the closely fortified metropolis corridor constructing right here in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, an indication of how shut Russian forces have superior of their march west alongside the Black Coastline.
Town’s mayor, Oleksandr Senkevich, wearing military inexperienced with a pistol in his pocket, barely notices as he factors out the Russian positions on a map. With him is Dmytro Falko, the secretary of the Metropolis Council, sporting a light-weight flak jacket and carrying a Kalashnikov rifle in a tennis racket case on his again.
The Russians are transferring in from the north, east and south, he mentioned. The identical forces a number of days earlier had captured the town of Kherson, which is about 40 miles east of Mykolaiv.
By midafternoon, he mentioned, some Russian forces had pushed into outlying areas of the town — killing an area faculty director, amongst others — although Ukrainian troopers have been holding them at bay for now.
After a battle on Friday night, Ukrainian forces retook the Mykolaiv airport, which had earlier been captured by Russian troops, and raised the Ukrainian flag there, in keeping with the Ukrainian navy, which posted a video of the flag and jubilant troops on Twitter.
“The enemy surrounds us,” Mr. Senkevich mentioned. “As we speak they’re gathering troops, and I believe they need to assault us within the nearest time.”
Russian forces within the north of Ukraine have been slowed down and are largely motionless close to the capital, Kyiv, and the nation’s second largest metropolis, Kharkiv. However the troops in Ukraine’s south have been on the transfer.
When Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, gave the order final week to invade, Russian forces poured out of the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014 and became a large military garrison. From there, they unfold east, the place they overcame the city of Melitopol, and have converged on Mariupol, which regardless of an almost weeklong siege has remained below the management of Ukrainian forces.
To the west, Russian troops pushed into the port metropolis of Kherson, the place the Russian commander knowledgeable the mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev, that he deliberate to ascertain a navy administration.
As of Friday, Mr. Kolykhaev mentioned, it appeared that Ukrainian forces positioned outdoors the town have been blocking vans with humanitarian help regardless of an settlement on Thursday to open a humanitarian hall, one thing he attributed to a miscommunication between troops on the bottom and their commanders.
Within the meantime, he mentioned, the Russian troops now occupying the town — “the type liberators,” he mentioned sarcastically — have been utilizing the delay for their very own propaganda messaging, publicly promising to supply help.
“First, they create a important scenario, then heroically they save us in order to point out on digital camera how everybody thanks the ‘benefactors,’” Mr. Kolykhaev mentioned in a textual content message. “I provide you with my phrase, I’m doing what I can, however I have no idea how lengthy I’ll be capable to dangle on.”
Whereas the final word intention of Russian troops within the southern theater is unknown, the possible objective is to take Odessa, a grand metropolis of 1 million folks on the Black Sea. There, residents and officers have been making ready day and night time for an assault, constructing tank barricades of sandbags and previous metal tramlines, whereas scanning the horizon for Russian warships approaching by sea.
However to succeed in Odessa by the best route, Russian forces should push by means of Mykolaiv and throughout the one drawbridge that spans the River Buh. For safety, the town has ordered the bridge to stay within the up place for a lot of the day, permitting solely about one hour for residents to evacuate. On Friday, a line of automobiles stretched deep into city, a few of which had indicators studying “kids” taped to their windshields.
On the entrance to the bridge, Ukrainian troops, kitted out in physique armor and carrying computerized weapons, stood guard. In inexperienced military packing containers subsequent to swiftly erected cinder block and sandbag bunkers have been shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, supplied by Britain.
If these fail to cease the Russian advance, Mr. Senkevich mentioned, the troops are below orders to blow the bridge up.
“Thus far it’s not as horrifying as in Kharkiv or different cities,” mentioned a girl named Nadezha, as she ready to cross the bridge on foot. “Our guys are defending us properly and all our hope is in them,” she mentioned, including that her son was additionally a soldier.
Within the first days of the combating, a lightning advance by Russian troops pushed into Mykolaiv however was repulsed by Ukrainian forces in a vicious firefight. Now the streets are largely empty apart from Ukrainian troops and the occasional lone pensioner strolling with purchasing baggage. A lot of the metropolis’s roughly 500,000 residents seem to have fled.
Throughout the River Buh is a neighborhood of well-appointed properties whose residents are making ready to defend their property. One in all them, who invited a reporter in for tea on the situation that solely his first identify, Vadim, be printed, confirmed off grotesque movies associates had despatched him from the combating across the metropolis. He mentioned Russian troopers within the area seemed to be surrendering in teams after they got here below hearth. The Instances couldn’t independently confirm his declare, however observers elsewhere within the nation have reported related scenes.
“The persons are nonetheless not absolutely offended,” mentioned Vadim, who had a shotgun sitting on his desk and mentioned he was able to defend his property if vital. “But when they’re pushed over the sting, nobody will probably be taking prisoners anymore. We’ll simply shoot them.”
Mr. Senkevich, the mayor, mentioned he and his employees have been additionally ready to struggle it out, if and when the Russian forces got here by means of. Along with the pistol in his pocket, there have been a number of computerized rifles mendacity round his workplace.
The one different issues that have been wanted for the town defenders, Mr. Senkevich mentioned, have been flak jackets and helmets.
“That is the one plan, to struggle to the top,” he mentioned. “The captain leaves the ship final.”