Since the cruiser Moscow sank last Thursday (14), Ukraine has been experiencing a mixture of joy and seizure. The contentment comes from the unprecedented symbolic and military achievement of the destruction of Russia’s flagship in the Black Sea. The apprehension is based on the possibility of revenge by the Russians, which has already begun to occur through attacks on military installations in cities such as Kyiv and Lviv.
On Friday (15), it was possible to see on the streets of the Ukrainian capital people lining up to buy a commemorative stamp released by post. It depicts a Ukrainian military man pointing his middle finger at the cruiser Moscow. In the streets, this seemed to be the current topic.
But the excitement turned to fear when the air raid sirens began to sound at 20H30. The night before, Russia had bombed an anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile factory on the outskirts of Kyiv. The attack was interpreted by military analysts as retaliation for the sinking of the Moscow.
Air-raid warnings have been part of Ukrainian routine since the beginning of the war. But the prospect of Russian revenge against the capital Kyiv made not only a good part of the local population, but also this columnist, lose sleep.
I associated any noise in the street with a possible explosion in the distance. This is definitely not the best way to get a good night’s sleep.
The air raid sirens sounded at 22h30 and ceased an hour later. Then they were triggered again at 5 am 15 on Saturday, but the attack only came at 21 H. It was not possible to hear explosions in the center of the capital, as I had spent the night imagining. News of the attack came through a publication by Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Telegram: the suburb called Darnytskyi had been hit.
Shortly later, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov , said precision missiles hit 16 targets across Ukraine, including an armored car factory and depots of weapons and military equipment in Kyiv. The Ukrainian police and militia did not let any journalists near the complex. Unconfirmed information said that seven Ukrainian soldiers would have died at the scene, but Klitschko confirmed only one death.
Similar attacks were also attempted in the city of Lviv, in the west of the country, but the four missiles shots fired by Russian bombers were reportedly shot down by anti-aircraft batteries, according to Ukrainian authorities.
On Saturday night, the alarm sounded again at 21 h21 for one hour. But the attack came only at 5 am 21 in the morning. A munitions factory was destroyed on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital by cruise missiles. Klitschko issued a statement saying that it is not time for people to return to Kyiv.
The escalation of attacks on the Ukrainian capital – which has not been bombed since Russia’s withdrawal from the region two weeks ago – occurs. just as Kyiv began to resume its normal routine. Local authorities stated that by the end of the week around 50 a thousand people were returning to the city a day.
Russian missile attacks also occur. at a time when the Kremlin has delivered an ultimatum to the West – stating that if arms shipments to Ukraine do not stop, there will be “unprecedented consequences”. Analysts have come to associate this rather vague statement with the use of nuclear weapons. The possibility also gained traction after being cited by CIA Director William Burns.
The tension was further heightened with a speech by President Volodymyr Zelensky about the need for Ukraine to prepare for the possibility of a Russia’s nuclear attack.
In theory, the Kremlin could escalate violence using so-called tactical nuclear weapons. That is, detonating an artifact with a potency of half or a tenth of the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. Analysts claim that reduced power would be a way to use a nuclear bomb without triggering a large-scale nuclear war.
But this does not seem to be Russia’s strategy for now. Since the alleged Ukrainian attack on the cruiser Moscow (the Russian version is that a fire took the ship to a scree), what you see is Russia concentrating fire on military targets. In other words, the Kremlin has not admitted that Moscow was sunk by Ukrainian Neptune missiles, as Ukrainians and Americans say, and so far it has adopted a proportional response, with attacks restricted to military targets.
In fact, walking through central Kyiv, I notice that despite the offensive at the beginning of the war, most of the city has been spared from Russian bombing. With the weapons that Moscow has, Kyiv could now look like Mariupol, which had 80% of its buildings affected by the war. This is not the case.
Another hypothesis raised by the local authorities is that Russian revenge comes through an amphibious landing in one of the two major ports still controlled by the Ukrainians: Odesa and Mykolaiv.
“We understand that the enemy will retaliate and we do not rule out a landing operation,” said Captain Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine. In practice, this would mean that the Russian navy would bomb these cities and then send ships with marines to land on the beaches and take the coast.
According to the American Think Tank Institute for War Studies, Odesa would be target of this type of operation at the beginning of the war, but the Russians would have aborted the idea. This is because the advance of his army on land was stopped in the city of Mykolaiv, before reaching Odesa. If the marines landed, they could be isolated.
I was in Odesa a few weeks ago and found beaches mined and protected by trenches and machine gun nests.
There are still rumors that Russian troop landing ships have been seen near the Sea of Japan, supposedly heading for the Mediterranean Sea. But even if this is true, it is not clear whether Turkey would authorize their passage to the Black Sea.
In addition, Mykolaiv remains resisting and is now the largest Ukrainian stronghold in the south of the country. According to Humeniuk, the city was recently bombarded with cluster munitions – missiles that break up into smaller bombs before hitting the ground and are considered very dangerous to the civilian population because they are intended to hit more people than conventional bombs or even scatter landmines across the terrain. However, this claim has not been proven by independent sources.
According to the UN, since the beginning of the war at least 1900 civilians were killed and more than 2.500 were injured. But those statistics could be much higher.
Kyiv Police Chief Andrii Niebyto said on Friday that 900 bodies of non-combatant civilians were found in 180 towns and villages around Kyiv after Russian troops left the region in 31 March. “I emphasize that these were civilians whose bodies we found and sent to the medical examiner for further examination. All these people died at the hands of the Russian army.”
More than 350 were in the city of Bucha, scene of the biggest massacres in the region so far. Russia argues that the bodies were placed on the ground by Ukrainian forces.
But the UN death toll is considered conservative. This is because it is not possible to know for sure the number of civilians killed in cities under Russian control. According to authorities in Mariupol, for example, the Russians are said to be exhuming the bodies of civilians who were buried by family members in their backyards. The aim would be to cremate them to erase evidence of war crimes. The Russians deny the claims and claim to have “liberated” Mariupol.
With the death toll rising every day, it is alarming that the Russian media is exacting revenge for the sinking of the cruiser Moscow. Fortunately for now, the Russian response on the battlefield has been proportional (with attacks restricted to military targets).
But this situation may change with the expected offensive in the Donbas region, in east of the country, which can start at any time.