28 August 2022, 06:52 PM
Kherson journalist on Antonivskiy Bridge and situation in region – interview
On the afternoon of Aug. 26, social media reported fresh explosions in Kherson.
A number of Telegram channels published videos of explosions and smoke in the Antonivskiy Bridge area. The Russian invaders reported that their air defenses had been active, but, apparently, they were unable to prevent the bridge being hit. Later, the Kherson regional military administration confirmed there were strikes on the bridge.
The day before, on Aug. 25, local journalist Konstantin Ryzhenko spoke to NV about thesituation in the occupied region.
– I saw you reported that the Russians are now building a ferry using barges, trying to restore the supply line. Could you elaborate on this? What is known about the bridges, about the Antonivskiy Bridge? We know that HIMARS hit it again, what condition is it in now?
– After the first strikes on the bridge, they (the Russians) started to seek options for how to transfer vehicles and ammunition to the right side of the Dnipro River, in case the bridge is taken out. Basically, it's a logical decision on their end, considering that the Ukrainian counter-offensive stated that bridges are priority targets.
From the point of view of military affairs, this is a fairly reasonable decision to look for some alternative options. How they do it is highly questionable. I talked to people who work in the shipbuilding industry. They built these barges and they don't think it will be as for the state of the Antonivskiy Bridge: despite all the strikes, it is quite strong. It was built, as they say, for centuries, with a large margin of safety, as this is a strategic artery. Same goes for the Kakhovska hydroelectric power station, as well as the second bridge, which is called Antonivskiy Railway Bridge. They just can't be destroyed that easily. Despite the number of strikes, the movement of military vehicles was still recorded there good solution.
– So the movement continues? It was you who cited various authorities of Kherson Oblast and said that the movement is stopped on the bridge. And it was you who stated that the vehicles continue to pass despite the fact that this Antonivskiy Bridge is hit almost all the time.
– Yes, but it is necessary to distinguish very clearly on which field we’re playing. If we’replaying from the point of view of propaganda and the so-called jingoistic patriotism, which is based on politicians who either carry out some kind of assignment in terms of propaganda, or try to earn some positive points for themselves – then it’s allowed there.
But if we speak from the point of view of objectivity and truth, then the crossing over the Antonivskiy bridge has always been ongoing. The only thing is that after the heavy strikes we observed that the bridge was blocked for some time, which was perceived by some speakers as a victory. Objectively, they did the following: they (invading Russian forces) closed the bridge, they started testing what would pass over it. First, they let a convoy of light cars to check if they can pass. Then they let a couple of trucks in, to see if they can pass, and so on. And at the same time, they are trying to carry out repairs. It is important to understand here that it is necessary to either completely destroy the bridge in such a way that several spans are missing; or you need to clearly understand that any strike slows down the passing for just a couple of days.
And so we play this hit-and-fix game with the Russians, and this will continue until the guiding reinforcing structures, which are the backbone of the bridge itself, are destroyed. It is extremely difficult to do and rather doubtful if it’s possible at all, given how many strikes have already been launched and what state it is in now.
– We remember that on Aug. 23 the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit this bridge. What were the results? Here I must remind our audience that the audio message was spread, saying that the bridge is now “gone”, to say it politely.
– If we are talking about my Telegram channel, then I want to say that I posted a video of how vehicles were transported at 6 o'clock in the morning. Therefore, the bridge was definitely not “gone” since there was movement. The point of being objective is not only about rational assessment of capabilities, perspectives and further planning. First of all, it is important to be objective because Kherson residents are in a state of constant hope. And when they are told that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are already 10 kilometers from the city, that there are battles on the outskirts of the city and the bridge has been destroyed, and the attack is about to start... Every time people look out of the window, into the sky, they have hope and are expecting that something is about to happen.
And then comes the realization that someone made those statements to score some political points for themselves, as well as to put everyone on the hype train. And then comes a very strong feeling of frustration and disappointment. There is a feeling that victories are only paper and it hits the morale of the Kherson residents very hard. The fighting spirit is greatly shaken because of this.
Some people are starting to believe Russian Telegram channels that say Ukraine can only win on paper and openly laugh at this counter-offensive. So, it is extremely important to state things as they are, not only for the sake of plans, but also for the sakeof people, their aspirations, desires and hopes.
– Then let's talk about reality some more, because what you say is very interesting. From the messages we receive from the south of Ukraine, we see that Ukrainian partisans are active. We see posted leaflets that, among other things, say how certain collaborators died. Can Kherson residents witness these pro-Ukrainian actions, in order to realize that there is an internal resistance, and that the people aren’t left there alone with the invaders who constantly repeat “We are here forever” and “Kherson is Russia” and etc?
– These questions should be broken up into several different ones. First, there is a resistance movement – that’s the partisans. There are movements going along the same vector, but slightly different. The resistance movement is, first of all, an ideological movement. They do leaflets, writings on walls, graffiti. It works in a relatively cultural plane of peaceful resistance, trying to demonstrate by all available means that Kherson is Ukraine.
They will hang a flag here, a leaflet there and somewhere they will launch yellow-blue balloons into the sky. Of course, from the point of view of the military it is meaningless, as this has no practical application as such. But from the ideological point of view this is very important, as it inspires people. Because first of all people give up within, and only after that do they give up in real life.
Regards the partisans: indeed, they exist. But there are also a number of nuances here.Not all explosions, not all executions that take place, are carried out directly by partisans. We have now begun to observe that the systematic bombing of collaborators who have gone over to the Russians suggests that the FSB (Russian secret service) itself has also begun to eliminate local collaborators.
As I understand it, they did not meet their expectations and some of these car bombings are apparently carried out directly by representatives of the FSB itself. We keep in touch with the partisans and the resistance movement, and when certain things happen, we can understand exactly who did it.
Presumably this is due to the high level of corruption, because, surprisingly, our collaborators even managed to teach the Russian FSB about our Kherson corruption. In wartime, as you know, some strange suicides, hangings and explosions happen quite often in Russia. Especially among people who are involved in military budgets, so some of these explosions are caused not only by the partisans, but also by the FSB.
– How do the invaders persecute Ukrainian activists? I expect this should be tightened even more, because after all, when collaborators, who were appointed somewhere, are blown up or shot, then the rest might start to think that they are next. If we talk about how the screws are being tightened in Kherson, what do youknow about it?
– The screws are constantly tightened, it happens in waves every month. Initially, in mid-May, it was possible to walk along the street with a Ukrainian symbol and if a person was approached, there were no big problems because of this. Now if you have a Ukrainian song as a ringtone, or the screen saver with the flag of Ukraine or anything else, you can be taken to the basement and tortured. We have such a high level of repression that any manifestation of Ukrainian statehood is prohibited.
– Fortunately, we are in contact with a resident of Kherson, a person who, unfortunately, remains under this temporary occupation. We ask them about how the Russian military is behaving. From what we’ve heard, it is clear that they consider themselves the master race. We were told about Nova Kakhovka and that the Russians almost thought that they were at a resort. After the first explosions caused by the HIMARS, the Russians got very tense and began to drink heavily. Is the situation in Kherson similar?
– Kherson and Nova Kakhovka are two different worlds, the right and left banks are very different in the patterns of behavior and actions of the Russian military. In Kherson, they act like locusts – trying to plunder everything that can be plundered. They remove machinery, equipment, and any assets from enterprises. One can see that despite all the statements about referendums and restoration of the region, they are not going to stay in Kherson itself.
In Nova Kakhovka they tried to re-register legal entities, began working with farmers, introducing taxes and the ruble, forcing Russian citizenship, as well as various other programs. Most of their repressions are oriented towards Nova Kakhovka.
But in Kherson it is different. They arrived in Kherson to work a little and leave. It’s true that they started drinking after the HIMARS attacks, but it happens everywhere. But in general, alcoholism is their national ideology, so I would not tie it specifically to the events with HIMARS. Probably commanders lost control of their soldiers, since they are too busy plundering themselves.
– Based on what you just said, I can draw the same conclusion as you – that the Russian invaders are probably ready to leave Kherson. We also know that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now trying to create problems for the Russians by hitting the logistics routes. How do you think that goes with the constant Russian rhetoric "We'll unite, we're here forever"? What is this for? Are they doing it just for show?
– No, I think that, firstly, there is a colossal difference between what the command in Moscow sees and what is happening on the ground. And taking into account the laxity, negligence and corruption of the Russian army, the local command can send completely different information than what is really happening in the region, this is the first thing.
Second: based on the fact that they are not making any serious offensive attempt, they just stand and wait for the HIMARS to hit them. After that, they patch up the gap and carry on. I think that they are trying to predict some moment when, from their point of view, it will be relevant to hold a referendum and then they can finally say “Kherson has become Russian.” And then they will be able to make more serious and practical statements about the use of nuclear weapons and a general mobilization. Because to a regular Russian, it will look like the enemy “attacked the borders of our country.”
– We understand that the most important thing for us, are Ukrainian citizens who are forced to live under this occupation. If we talk about the daily life of Kherson residents, from what we have heard, we know that the whole city has turned into one spontaneous market. How do Kherson residents live and how do they earn?
– It is practically impossible to explain exactly how the life of a simple Kherson citizen is going. Rather, it is possible to explain, but a person from the non-occupied territory will simply not be able to believe this information. In fact, people's lives have rolled back to the Stone Age. A person runs out of their cave, catches something, cheap food, maybe some kind of humanitarian aid, and then goes back to their cave.
You don’t know at what moment you will seem suspicious to a Russian soldier, at what moment you could just be taken to the basement and tortured. So, people try not to go out too often. There is a certain category of people whose life has forced them to go to enterprises that the Russians are running
Not because they want to, but because they need at least some minimal money in orderto somehow survive. Those people work and also fear that at some point someone might consider them saboteurs or intelligence officers. Even if you work with the Russians, there is absolutely no guarantee that the Russians won’t take you to a basement to torture you.