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What life is like in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv


Russia continued its artillery and missile attacks on cities in Ukraine today, targeting cities all across the country, from Kharkiv in the east to Lviv in the west, Kyiv in the north and Mykolaiv live in the south. This comes as Russia prepares for what's expected to be a major new offensive. NPR's Tim Mak was in Mykolaiv, a major city on the Black Sea, when explosions took place today. He's now back in Odessa, and he is with us now to tell us more. Tim Mak, thank you so much for joining us.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Of course. Thank you.

MARTIN: So what did you see and hear today?

MAK: Well, we heard the wail of these air raid sirens and the loud, dull thumps of artillery in the distance. In Mykolaiv, we saw hundreds of tires stacked up every half-block or so along the road, presumably so they could be burned as roadblocks or signals if the Russian military was to enter the city. Now, everywhere you looked, men with guns were standing there. The Russian military has struck targets all across Ukraine over the past day. And where I was, in Mykolaiv in the South, the Russians claimed they hit a depot for rocket and artillery weapons. Mykolaiv is between 30 and 50 kilometers from a very dynamic frontline between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

MARTIN: Have civilian targets been hit in this city?

MAK: Well, yes. And in particular, we visited a children's hospital this morning that had been the site of a bombardment. The medical director of the hospital, Iryna Tkachenko, said that the constant influx of injured and sick children have taken a real toll on the staff.

IRYNA TKACHENKO: (Through interpreter) Well, what do you want me to tell you? About 50% of the doctors at the hospital are left, and the people who remain, they work 24/7 for 52 days now. And it's heavy on the people. So it's exhausting.

MAK: We saw broken windows in the places where these blasts occurred. The hospital administration described those areas as a place where active surgery was being performed when the explosion happened and another place where bodies were waiting for autopsies.

MARTIN: Now, you spent the day talking to people in Mykolaiv and getting a sense of their lives in the shadow of this war. Just what are some of the things that they told you?

MAK: Well, look, things are getting more and more difficult for civilians in the city. Running water stopped in Mykolaiv four days ago. This basic, life-sustaining need for water drives everyday life. Wherever you look, you see people carrying water jugs or in large lines in front of these big tanks brought into the city to help civilians get water. We spoke to Dennis Vatula. He's using his friend's property as a impromptu water distribution point.

MAK: (Through interpreter) At this spot, we have a well. And we just give out water to anybody who needs it because nobody has got water.

DENNIS VATULA: He said he doesn't recommend his friends return to the city at this time.

MARTIN: I understand, though, that a lot of people have chosen to stay there despite the Russians being so close and despite these daily struggles of just surviving that you were just telling us about. So what did people tell you about why they aren't leaving?

MAK: Not only are people not leaving, but there are residents who are returning to the city after this Ukrainian counter-offensive pushed Russian lines further away from the city limits. It's a combination of things of why folks aren't leaving. Some tell us they don't want to leave their homes, their possessions. My colleague Brian Mann met one young couple today, Grigory (ph) and Helena Vodopyanov (ph), whose home outside Mykolaiv was heavily damaged by Russian bombardment.

GRIGORY VODOPYANOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAK: He told us, we have no place to go and no money. A lot of people living close to the war feel trapped. Grigory's young wife, Helena, was holding their baby, Timothy.

HELENA VODOPYANOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAK: Helena said she's really worried for them, for their child, for the people around them. And as you can hear in that sound, these air raid sirens were sounding just as we were talking. And then soon after that, we began to hear some regular artillery fire.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tim Mak reporting from Odessa, Ukraine. Tim, thanks to you and all of our colleagues there for your reporting.

MAK: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.