How the people of Mykolaiv live in their steel city, what is happening at the water mains on the border of the region, how communal services solve the water issue and what a stable Mykolaiv looks like after the shelling.
Mykolaiv, being a front-line city, resembles monolithic steel cast in the shape of blocks, avenues and parks. And the Russians break their spears against this steel.
After the liberation of Kherson, Mykolaiv, which stands between it and Odesa, a bastion for the occupiers, has become much calmer, as the locals themselves say. You can not be afraid of MSDS, but the well-known S-300 to the people of Mykolaiv can still get here. In addition, more than six months after the water main was blown up, the issue of water continues to be more relevant than ever.
How the people of Mykolaiv live, what happens at the waterworks on the border of the region, how communal services solve water issues and what a sustainable Mykolaiv looks like – in the report of RBC-Ukraine.
Nikolaev has many epithets. It was called the “city of ships” in Soviet times, gangster in the nineties, even “aborted” St. Petersburg due to a similar urban planning plan. Today it is an outpost of the south, the main fortress near the Black Sea.
The city has been shelled since the first days of the Russian invasion. The Russians launched everything they could get their hands on – they hit residential blocks and bus stops with rocket launchers. Rockets fly into universities and schools. Iranian “mopeds” get into houses. The city stands.
We drive into the region, drive up to the checkpoint, turn off the headlights and open the window as usual. The military man checks the documents, then steps back a couple of steps and looks at our car – a two-seater “smart”. The man, without hiding a smile, nods at the car and asks:
– And how much gasoline does she use?
We smile. The Mykolaiv Region welcomes you like an old friend. Locals are as strict as they are interesting – if you want, they will definitely ask. We drive further, get a little lost on the road, we are saved by the same soldiers at checkpoints. Around 8 pm we enter the city and plunge into complete, impenetrable darkness.
In the evening, Mykolaiv is illuminated only by the headlights of cars and the lanterns of rare passers-by. An hour before the curfew, which in the city comes at 10:00 p.m., the streets finally empty and turn black, reminiscent of the old children’s horror story “In one black, very black city.” The light is not even on in the windows – the townspeople are hanging them to mask the light and protect the panes from the blast wave. In any residential yard, you find yourself in absolute darkness.
In the morning, together with the employees of the local “Vodokanal”, we go to the waterworks. During the occupation of the Kherson region and part of the Mykolaiv region, the Russians managed to blow up the water pipe in several places. In an attempt to bring at least some water to the locals, “Mykolaivvodokanal” filled the city’s system with brackish water from the Dnipro-Buzka estuary. Hard for the pipes, practically untreated water accelerated the corrosion of the system.
The lack of water for several days or weeks in Mykolaiv will surprise few people – pipe bursts have become commonplace. According to utility workers, in total, more than 240 kilometers of pipes need to be replaced. And while the workers are fixing the system, trips for water have become a regular routine for the locals.
Locals collect water in Mykolaiv
Stopping near “Vodokanal”, we chat with the people of Mykolaiv who came here to the well. During the war, people adapted, bought themselves “kravchukka”, special handles on the bottle to make it more convenient, large industrial bags that are thrown over the shoulders and carry home the extracted water.
– Sonechka, after all, we didn’t want war, – says the woman, putting eggplants in a bag on wheels, – We wanted to live peacefully. In Ukraine. And they came.
The women standing nearby nod, and one of them, straightening up, looks at us and quietly adds: “And we will survive them.”
While we are driving through the city, we chat with a local resident, Iryna, who agreed to drive us.
– Near “Vodokanal” water flows from the ground, do you have gusts right next to the enterprise?
– Oh, they are everywhere! We joke here, they say: “Money flows through the streets.” Both funny and sad.
We are going to the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions. In order to repair the pipes, the employees of “Vodokanal” need to leave the recently vacated territory. So far, there are only military personnel who “stabilize” the situation, and repair brigades, which have their own “work front” and their victims from mines.
The repair of the “Dnipro – Mykolaiv” water pipeline, which was blown up by the Russians, is being carried out in several places at once. The way there runs along dirt roads along fields overgrown with weeds. The occupiers have left, but it is still dangerous here, everything is littered with mines and ammunition. Sappers managed to clear the roads that lead to the places where utility workers work.
The further into the steppes, the more distinct and daring are the traces of the Russians. Rockets stuck in the ground, islands of burnt grass. Here, where you can see the abandoned dugout and the garbage around, they dug in, here they walked through the village – there was not a single surviving house left along its streets. And here, where burnt armored vehicles suddenly appear on the horizon, they must have died.
One of the destroyed villages in the Mykolayiv region
At the first “point”, which is near the Kherson region, we stop and get out of the car. “Only on the paths! – shouts one of the workers to us, – everything is in mines here!”.
We look around and see a blackened armored personnel carrier, on which the “pattern” of the occupiers can still be guessed, a dugout dug right into the hill, piles of garbage. Broken alcohol bottles, cans from energy companies, packages.
– There were Buryats here, – they explain to us – Before leaving, they mined everything here.
The main work is taking place on the hills – there they are already cooking a new part of the pipe. Everything around is strewn with sapper flags. Shells are buried here, we can see part of the tail of one of them right under our feet. We are told that the day before, a truck with an employee of “Vodokanal” exploded here – fortunately, the man survived.
You can only walk along thin, trodden paths that wash away in the rain. We look at the hill, where utility workers are quickly moving. It can be seen from them that they have adapted to the fact that danger is only one wrong step away. It fascinates and frightens at the same time.
Communal workers are given lunch, they quickly go down the hill, deftly maneuvering between the flags. I want to close my eyes looking at them.
At the second point, the director of “Mykolaivvodokanal” Borys Dudenko meets us. He is friendly, immediately leads to the place where the pipe was blown up. There are also mines here – in the front-line areas, you have to get used to the idea that, hypothetically, there are mines everywhere. But in the second location there are significantly fewer of them.
– These were deliberate detonations. This is not just a projectile hit, it was done on purpose. In one of the cells, we even found a box of TNT that did not explode, says the interlocutor.
We go up to the pipe – it is upside down. The explosion was so powerful that it cracked the latch, which is several meters away. Dudenko shakes his head when asked when the water will be released into the city. Forecasts are difficult to give.
– Now the weather allowed us, we quickly started to do. But the weather is deteriorating, let’s see how much it is possible so that the technology itself is respected. Plus, the sappers sometimes ask us to leave, they detonate. They have to do their job.
It starts to rain. A cylinder of a cut pipe is brought to the point. A slinger jumps onto the platform of the truck, attaches hooks to the pipe, and jumps off. The cylinder flies over our heads and lands next to where it will later be welded.
– Are you not afraid? Here everything is in mines.
– Only a sick person is not afraid. But it must be done.
We are invited to have lunch with the workers, but we refuse – they need hot soup more now.
As we drive to the city, it is impossible not to think about how ordinary war has become for this place. Only 9 months have passed since the beginning of the invasion. Historically, this is nothing, but people are used to it. Communal services in peacetime concluded contracts with Eurobank, received loans to replace the entire water supply. They chose pipes with the most modern coating, guarantees, streets where they will be installed first.
Today, the same people go to the fields, dig the ground, maneuvering shovels between mines and shells. Pieces of iron turned inside out are cut. They eat soup in the rain near the Buryat dugouts. Who would have believed that, tell them that a few years ago…
We get into the city while it’s still light. We are two correspondents – a native of Kyiv and a native of Mykolaiv. We constantly argue with each other, driving through the center and the streets adjacent to it, where it is better to live – in the capital or small similar cities.
– It is very cozy and quiet here.
– But we have nowhere to go.
– And I like it. You have a nice center, shops and restaurants are open, the streets do not turn into one continuous parking lot during the day.
Mykolaiv Central Street
In the meantime, Iryna stops by the destroyed buildings – there are many of them, they are different, but they are similar in one way – they seem to have been bitten off. Universities, schools, residential buildings. They suddenly appear on roads and avenues so everyday that at first you can’t believe your eyes. A shop, a church, a shopping center are part of the school. A car wash, a cafe, an avenue – the frame of a residential building. We go out, take pictures.
Here on the windowsill, which miraculously survived, someone put flowers. Downstairs, on broken bricks, window frames, and rags, there is a whole Soviet TV stand. She is so homely that she looks strange and out of place on the street.
– When I hear explosions, I don’t care where they are, I have to go home to my child right away, – says Iryna, looking at the house.
A boy died in this building when a rocket hit it. The 11-year-old child was pulled out from under the rubble still alive, her parents burst into tears with relief, took her to the ambulance, and left with her. The whole city collected money for him, and in the evening it turned out that he had died. This is how the Russians took revenge for not being able to enter Mykolaiv.
We thank Irina, say goodbye and move on. A military man is standing near a building hit by artillery. He smokes and drinks coffee from a cardboard cup.
– Can I take a picture of you? We are from the news publication, please.
The soldier smiles shyly, puts away his cigarette. We take a couple of pictures and thank the man.
The center of the city is a series of plywood buildings along a long pedestrian street, shell marks on the asphalt resembling the silhouette of the sun. At first it seems that Mykolaiv is quiet. If life did not stop, it paused. But then coffee shops light up on the streets, people go to parks, sit on benches near recently dug holes, sell flowers, take pictures. In this city, life is actively pulsating, just in an unusual rhythm for a peaceful one.
A military man in Mykolaiv is standing near the shelled building
After the de-occupation of Kherson, people returned to Mykolaiv, settling anew in familiar and not-so-familiar areas. And those who did not leave explain their choice irrationally and simply at the same time – it is easier for them here. Borys Dudenko also told us about this when he was at the water race.
– I caught myself thinking that I am more relaxed in Mykolaiv. Yes, it’s loud here. Where I live, one rocket exploded 50, the second 500 meters from the house. But I have a feeling that it is under control. I see explosions.
The daylight is coming to an end, the yellow-burgundy streets are slowly turning gray from the fallen leaves. For residents of Mykolaiv, another day has passed when they do not see or hear explosions. The Steel City remains as proud and upright as anyone we see here. Life has already won here – it remains to defeat the enemy.
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