Russian Forces Advance on Mykolaiv in Bid for Ukraine’s Coast

Russian Forces Advance on Mykolaiv in Bid for Ukraine’s Coast

Russian forces are advancing on the port city of Mykolaiv, a key point in what appears to be a bid to seize control of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Senkevych, said in an interview on Thursday that Russian forces that had captured the southern city of Kherson on Wednesday were headed northwest toward his city. The distance is about 36 miles.

Roughly 800 Russian vehicles, including a column of rocket launchers, were advancing on Mykolaiv from the north, east and south. Mr. Senkevych said that there had been no shelling inside the city, but that Ukrainian forces dug in along the city’s perimeter had been fired on by long-range rockets, forcing them to constantly retrench.

“The city is ready for war,” Mr. Senkevych said.

Russia is seeking to enable separatist forces it supports in Crimea, the southern peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, to connect by land with forces it supports in Ukraine’s east, said Orysia Lutsevych, the head of the Ukraine Forum group at Chatham House, a policy institute in London. She said Russia’s invading units are thus also attacking the port city of Mariupol.

“Kherson and Mykolaiv have felt under pressure since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 by the possibility of the land bridge,” she said.

Mykolaiv, an ethnically diverse city of about 475,000, lies on an estuary off the Black Sea and has deep roots in ship building, though recently it has also developed as a center for light industry and agriculture.

Its nicknames include the City of Shipbuilders and the City on the Waves, and its connection to the Black Sea is critical to its identity, according to Rory Finnin, an associate professor of Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge University.

Control of Mykolaiv would enable Russia to land amphibious troops for a further push west toward Odessa, a major port on the Black Sea.

“Mykolaiv is key on the way to Odessa,” Dr. Finnin said. “Ukraine’s Black Sea life is being threatened at the moment and Mykolaiv is a puzzle piece in that.”

Flat geography makes the city’s approaches hard to defend, Dr. Finnin said. Mr. Senkevych has tried to rally the city’s population, using social media to encourage defiance.

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