In the Korabel district of Mykolaiv, near Ukraine’s southern front, Pavel Salohub, a history and boxing teacher, hasn’t heard a single explosion in four days – the first respite from the war since the invasion of Russia.
Friday’s recapture of the city of Kherson has diverted the front line tens of kilometers to the east, and with it Russian artillery, raising hopes that nearly nine months of regular shelling and strikes are coming to an end, said the young man of 28 years.
“Emotionally everyone is happier, you can feel it. It’s the first thing everyone talks about. It really boosts morale. In the south we had seen very little success, some felt a bit like we had been forgotten,” he added.
Earlier counteroffensive advances had taken place around Kyiv, from the north and northeast.
Salohub and others believe the Ukrainian gains have ultimately dashed the Kremlin’s ambitions to capture the southwestern cities of Mykolaiv and Odessa and sweep into Moldova where it has a troop outpost in separatist Transnistria .
This would have completely cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea, leaving the former Soviet state of 44 million people landlocked.
“Russia doesn’t have the personnel to cross the Dnipro river now. It’s just not possible. They will not be able to enter Kherson for five or ten years. They failed in the south. They can forget Mykolaiv or Odessa,” he said.
Russia no longer has any forces on the right, or western, bank of Europe’s third-largest river that flows through Ukraine and into the Black Sea, a vital conduit for Ukrainian grain exports.
At the start of the war, Russian forces moved to the outskirts of Mykolaiv, a shipbuilding town with a pre-war population of 500,000.
Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s Central Military District, said in April that they planned to take full control of southern Ukraine.
Mykolaiv is Ukraine’s second largest port and home to several important grain terminals which have been attacked. Ukrainian officials have called for expanding a grain export deal to include ports in the Mykolaiv region, which supplied 35% of Ukraine’s food exports before the war.
NO TIME TO RELAX
Although the Russians were pushed back, the Korabel district where Salohub lives emptied out as heavy artillery shells crashed over the course of several weeks with the front line only tens of kilometers (miles) away.
His parents, who lived with him, left for Germany during the exodus of the inhabitants of the district.
“Now when I go out in the yard, there are literally no young people, no women, no children. They are just very old people who can barely walk,” he said.
Driving through his neighborhood, Salohub stopped to look at the craters several meters deep left by S-300 missiles and gestured from the car window towards a building near his home which caught fire with those inside after being bombed.
Up the road, a worker was sweeping up broken glass near a row of tall residential buildings hit by missiles last month.
Like other cities still reeling from Russian drone and missile strikes on infrastructure across Ukraine, Mykolaiv has no street lights and its rows of Soviet-era brick apartment buildings are slumped in the dark at night.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army’s southern command, told residents to beware of strikes.
“We absolutely cannot rule out the threat, as parts of the region are not yet liberated and work is underway there. It is therefore not yet possible to relax, although the inhabitants of Mykolaiv can now breathe from time to time,” she said.
Salohub said he stayed for the good of the community and to be able to help other residents.
It involves everything from helping locals close windows shattered by shelling to providing psychological support for traumatized children, although he said the war has sometimes left him depressed and brought on bouts of depression. panic.
He also saw a silver lining in the exodus of people from his district.
“That’s why we’re often lucky to have few people killed and sometimes none at all. Houses are often empty…a shell falls and no one dies because no one was home.