MYKOLAIV, Ukraine – A day after Ukrainian forces pushed them back beyond the city limits, Russian troops launched a fierce artillery attack on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Monday, striking residential neighborhoods with rockets and driving streams of people.
Around 5 a.m., the city awoke to a barrage of artillery that lit up the dark sky. Residents took refuge in basements and trucks loaded with Ukrainian troops rushed to the east of the city, where the fighting seemed to be the most intense.
Several rockets landed in an area of dense apartment buildings in the far east of the city, blasting out windows and sending shrapnel through walls and appliances. No injuries were reported immediately.
But locals were both reeling and resentful, invoking the name of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin with a torrent of profanity.
“Tell Putin he kills peaceful people,” Olga Kololyova, 48, said through sobs as she stood in the kitchen of her shattered home. The glass had been blown out of its front window and its front door had been destroyed. She said she hid in her bathroom as the rockets rained down.
“He thinks we should submit to him?” she says. “I want him to go through what I went through this morning.”
Viktor Voroboi had just returned to his bed after an early morning cigarette on his balcony when a rocket struck outside, blowing through the balcony glass and covering him in debris. A day earlier, he had moved his mother into her apartment after his own neighborhood had been bombed in a previous attack. None of them were injured on Monday.
“I was lucky, that means an angel is protecting me,” he said, his voice still shaking.
The inhabitants of a building take shelter in a basement that normally serves as a gym, and the sound of artillery fire makes the walls shake. Margarita Andreyeva accused Russia of tarnishing what she described as a sacred victory over the Nazis in World War II, in which Ukrainians and Russians fought together.
“And now Germany is giving us weapons to defend ourselves against the Russians,” she said. “This is nonsense. What would our grandfathers think?
The scope of the battle was still unclear. Mykolaiv has become a key battleground in Russia’s effort to seize Ukraine’s southern coast, which would cut off the country’s access to the Black Sea. By noon on Monday, the soundtrack of incoming and outgoing artillery fire around the city had reached a high volume.
Just over 24 hours earlier, officials had triumphantly declared that Ukrainian forces had recaptured the city’s airport and pushed Russian forces out of the city. On Monday, the Russians appeared to be mounting a counterattack. Mykolaiv region governor Vitaliy Kim released a video saying the Russians – he called them using an obscenity – had attacked the airport and Ukrainian forces were fighting them there.
Reached on WhatsApp on the front line on Monday morning, Colonel Sviatoslav Stetsenko of the Ukrainian army’s 59th brigade said Ukrainian forces were holding back Russian forces with their artillery.
“The best way to preserve yourself is to destroy the enemy that attacks you,” he said.