The battle for this strategically important place was fought for two weeks. With the fall of Volnovakha and the northbound frontline push, a railway connection was established and it will serve the Russian military to facilitate the transfer of reinforcements and other forces to other areas of southern Ukraine, which is why additional supplies will not have to bypass through Crimea, easing logistics.
Due to its importance, this place was fiercely defended by the Ukrainian army, reinforced by the Ukrainian Nazis from the infamous “Azov” battalion. Due to their significantly inferior military situation and the pro-Russian stance of the local population, the units of the “Azov” battalion used civilians as human shields and organized defense around important facilities in the city, including the hospital.
What is evident is that the local population is suffering due to the devastation caused by the war, the residents we spoke to mostly condemn the Zelensky government for the events related to the beginning of the war. There is no electricity or water. As far as food is concerned, the Russian military is working to secure humanitarian aid for the population as much as it can, which implies that a good portion of the logistics effort goes to help people in areas affected by the war. This further tells us about the strategy of the Russian military to take over and pacify the area, as well as help the local population.
Destruction due to fighting is visible everywhere, especially in the central areas of the city. Destroyed Ukrainian equipment can be seen at several points in the city. The soldiers tell us that at least 7 tanks and armored vehicles were destroyed, while several more were captured. Turrets of destroyed Ukrainian armor serve as a testament to the intensity of the fighting.
While we are talking to the locals gathered around the hospital which was destroyed as a result of the Ukrainian army using it as a battle position, a large Russian army column is seen moving in the direction of Mariupol. Soldiers mounted on BMP-3 APCs greet journalists and the locals. For a moment, most journalists turned to film the army column, interrupting the conversation with the locals for a moment. The cruelty of war, everyone prefers to witness the military might for a moment, which speaks much of our human nature. Before this show of military might, people turn their heads away from the locals for a moment. The moment was symbolic. The passing soldiers seem well-motivated and are waving victoriously while going to Mariupol, where the final phase of the battle is taking place. The hand-held rocket launchers of the Ukrainian army left around the hospital serve as a testament that the building was used as a battle position. Behind the hospital, we see another virtually unscathed Ukrainian tank.
The city has not yet been completely cleared of mines, so journalists are recommended not to go outside the secured route, due to the possibility of leftover booby traps. The sight of the clearly distressed civilians waiting in line for bread and water provided by the Russian army seems like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Fortunately, not all parts of Volnovakha suffered as much damage as the city center. I approach a young man on a bicycle, he says that he is from an area that is a few hundred meters from the center, his house has not been destroyed, but he says there is no running water or electricity. He adds that the Russian military is providing the only help they’re getting and that he’s hopeful things will return to normal soon. Conversing with the local population, we learn there are also dead civilians, but it is not yet clear how many exactly. However, we can assume dozens of people were probably killed. Locals are confirming the intensity of the fighting and are telling us that they had to hide in basements and ruins of residential buildings.
War is hell. The time for us to leave has come.