In the far north of the Black Sea, Ukraine’s strategic naval base Otchakiv overlooks the mouth of the Dnieper River and access to the ports of Mykolaiv and Kherson.
The Russians failed to take it at the beginning of the invasion, and since then they have started hitting it on the opposite side from the Kinbourn Peninsula. Kiev could retake it to advance to the east bank of the Dnieper River, where Moscow’s troops had retreated a month earlier.
The town of Otchakiv, famous for its sandy beaches, seaside hotels, one of which has a guitar-shaped pool, was a very popular summer resort.
In the first hours of the Russian invasion on February 24, the idyllic image disappeared. The local port and its naval base, which Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses of being in American hands, were among the first bombing targets of Moscow forces.
24 soldiers were martyred that day. Russian units then attempted an amphibious assault.
“They organized a landing operation on our coast. But our armed forces and special forces prevented this operation”Ochakiv Deputy Mayor Oleksiy Vaskov told AFP during a visit to the region under close control of the army on Saturday.
With a population of 15,000 before the war, Otchakiv is located at the mouth of the Dnieper, which leads east to the ports of Kherson, and the Bug, which leads north to Mykolaiv.
Opposite the city, 4.5 km away, at the end of the peninsula of the same name, on the east bank of the Dnieper, Kinbourn Peak stretches.
“Ochakiv is the gateway to Kherson, Nikolayev regions and the upper part of the river, Zaporozhye, Dnieper, Kiev and other cities (…) Therefore, Ochakiv is of strategic importance for both commercial and military reasons.”explains the deputy mayor.
Since June, Russian forces have invested in the peninsula. Basically, they regularly attack Ochakiv from there.
Trying to neutralize them, “We are using artillery and our special forces. The goal is to clear the place.”a naval base official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
At the end of November, the Ukrainian military forces announced an operation “military operation” on the peninsula, without further ado.
“We are in the process of regaining full control of the region (Nikolaiv). We have three places left on Kinbourn that will no longer officially be a war zone.”the governor of the region Vitaly Kim assured.
But in early December, the Russian military responded by denying that Ukrainian forces had taken control of Kinburn’s spit, where several hundred residents had been evacuated.
According to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), controlling the end of the peninsula will allow. “Softening Russia’s strikes on the Black Sea coast”also “to increase naval activity in the region and conduct potential operations to cross the left bank of the Dnieper”.
“We Will Survive”
Last week, a Russian Grad missile hit a residential building in Otchakiv and did not cause any casualties. In early September, a grain silo was completely destroyed by a missile.
“The goal was to destroy our infrastructure, to destroy the grain storage used by our farmers, and to pretext the presence of (US missile systems) HIMARS and other weapons here.”Deputy Mayor Oleksii Vaskov explains. “This is a 100% civilian company, we’ve never had a soldier here”the administrator gets angry.
At the end of October, during the next bombing of the naval base, the Russian army announced that it targeted the training center of the Ukrainian special services. Later, Moscow assured that the attack on its fleet in Crimea in Ochakiv was prepared with the help of British experts in the same month.
At the end of 2020, Ukraine signed an agreement with Great Britain on the supply of missile boats and the construction of port infrastructure for the Ochakov base.
Vladimir Kozhevnikov, 72, prays for Russians in a city market shrouded in humid fog “Shoot the (Kinbourn) shill to stop these kicks”.
62-year-old Oleg Klyuchko convinces him of this “The city is working, so is the administration, they are doing their best and we are protected by our soldiers”. “I’m not afraid of winter, I just want these holidays to stop. We’ll survive everything else.”he adds.