ODESSA, Ukraine — The Black Sea port city of Odessa is expecting a possible Russian attack from the east, where Moscow’s forces have already captured the city of Kherson, and from the eight Russian warships located just outside of Ukraine’s territorial waters, Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said Monday.
“The aggressor is not far from Odessa,” Trukhanov told The Washington Post. “For 10 days, the city has been living with this tension. But on the other hand, it’s given us time to more thoroughly prepare.”
Trukhanov said an attack from the west, where Russian forces are located in the Russian-backed separatist enclave of Transnistria along a swath of the border with Moldova and Ukraine, is also a possibility.
But “according to forecasts and estimates of our military, the aggressor’s forces there are small,” so the main threat remains an incursion from the sea or from the east, he said.
Odessa, considered a cultural and tourism hub in Ukraine, is unrecognizable right now. The downtown’s cobblestone streets are lined with sandbag barricades and antitank metal hedgehogs. All restaurants are closed. Sirens are heard throughout the day, but they tend to pass without incident.
The main bombardment here has so far been in Odessa’s southwestern shore towns, about 40 miles out from the city center. Booming thuds can occasionally be heard downtown, but Trukhanov said the sounds were from Ukraine’s air-defense and coastal artillery systems firing on aerial targets that could be trying to test Odessa’s fortification.
Meanwhile, Trukhanov always has a loaded pistol with him. “Odessa is a symbol of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Trukhanov said. “It’s our southern outpost. And the enemy understands this, which is why he’s so eager to seize Odessa.
“In my opinion, the city of Odessa is the most patriotic in Ukraine,” he added. “Our patriotism is international. We have 130 nationalities here, and they all love Odessa. We love our city, so we’ll defend it together — the Jews, the Greeks, the Ukrainians and those Russians who live here.”