Weeds advance across sidewalks. Buildings are shuttered. Drinking water is in short supply. More than half the population has left; those who remain are almost all jobless. About 80 percent of people here, many of them old, rely on food and clothes from aid organizations. Every now and then another explosion electrifies the summer air, tipping people into desperation when it does not kill them.
Driven out of a nearby village, Natalia Holovenko, 59, was in a line to register for aid when she began sobbing. “We don’t have any Nazis here!” she said, a reference to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s false justification of the war as needed to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. “He just wants to kill us.”
In her imploring eyes the madness of this Russian project seemed etched.
Without the Black Sea coast, a landlocked rump Ukraine would be a nation undermined, its ports lost, eight years after Mr. Putin seized Crimea. A grain-exporting nation, albeit one now facing a Russian naval blockade, it would find its economy upended.
Better Understand the Russia-Ukraine War
But as Russia advances mile by plodding mile in the Donbas region to the east, it has been held back in the south. Since their capture of Kherson, about 40 miles east of Mykolaiv, early in the war, Russian forces have stalled or been pushed back. Ukrainians, their resolve hardening, have retaken villages in the Kherson region.
“We will not give away the south to anyone, we will return everything that’s ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” President Volodymyr Zelensky declared after visiting Mykolaiv and Odesa last week. Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, said Tuesday that “our army will definitely de-occupy these lands.”