MYKOLAIV, UKRAINE (NYTIMES) – The remains of a Russian Tigr fighting vehicle sat smoldering on the side of the road, as Ukrainian troops lounged outside their trenches smoking cigarettes. Nearby, a group of local villagers was tinkering with a captured T-90 tank, trying to get it running again so that the Ukrainian army might put it to use.
For three days, Russian forces had fought to take Mykolaiv, but Ukrainian troops had driven them back from the city limits and retaken the airport, halting the Russian advance along the Black Sea, at least temporarily. By Monday (March 7) morning, Russian forces had resumed their attack.
“Few expected such strength from our people because, when you haven’t slept for three days, and when you only have one dry ration because the rest burned up, when it’s negative temperature out and there is nothing to warm you, and when you are constantly in the fight, believe me, it is physically very difficult,” an exhausted Colonel Sviatoslav Stetsenko, of the Ukrainian army’s 59th Brigade, said in an interview. “But our people endured this.”
Taking Mykolaiv remains a key objective for Russian forces, and the thwomp of artillery in the distance on Sunday suggested that the Ukrainians had not pushed them back that far. But the unexpected Ukrainian success of defending this critical port, about 105km from Odessa, underscores two emerging trends in the war.
Russia’s failure to seize Mykolaiv and other cities quickly, as President Vladimir Putin of Russia appears to have intended, is largely a function of its military’s faltering performance. Russian forces have suffered from logistical snafus, baffling tactical decisions and low morale.
But it is the fierce and, according to many analysts, unexpectedly capable defense by Ukrainian forces, who are significantly outgunned, that has largely stalled the Russian advance and, for now, prevented Mykolaiv from falling into Russian hands.