Russia-Ukraine War: Architectural Gems Destroyed and Cities Disfigured by Bombing
In the heart of Odessa, with his easel planted in the middle of the charming Deribasovskaya pedestrian street and surrounded by sandbags, Viktor Oliynik paints in pastel colors the new face of the city, an architectural jewel of southern Ukraine.
Both in Odessa and in Mikolaiv, a town blocking access to the Russian army 130 kilometers to the east, the inhabitants find it difficult to recognize their towns, disfigured by war.
Turning his back on some iconic landmarks, like the former Bolshaya Moskovskaya Hotel – also known as the “House of Faces” for the decorations on its green Art Nouveau facade – Viktor Oliynik strives to live in this new reality.
“I used to paint Odessa”, explains the artist, with a three-day beard and a black cap. Despite everything, he takes advantage of the light and the tranquility of the late afternoon, a few hours before the night curfew.
“I’m taking advantage of it, I could never have imagined such a scene,” he continues, a bundle of paintbrushes in hand, pointing to the obstacles and fortifications along the street lined with an elegant garden.
The historic Odessa Opera House surrounded by sandbags at a checkpoint. Photo: EFE
“This period of chaos must end to make way for a period of balance”, he prophesies with a mystical accent.
Higher up, on the square of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, men play dominoes, chess or backgammon, imperturbable despite sporadic air alerts.
For Vladislav Gaydarji, a 25-year-old volunteer, “it is very painful” to see his city transformed in this way, said the young man, who came to bring aid to hospitals and troops in Mikolaiv.
The volunteer says that some of his friends who left Odessa at the start of the war “didn’t believe their eyes” when they returned a month later.
“They were surprised to discover so many streets blocked by steel objects to slow down vehicles,” he explains.
“I hope that very soon not only Odessa but all Ukrainian cities will regain their beauty under the Ukrainian flag,” he adds.
Sirens and attacks
While the center of Mikolaiv, bombarded for weeks by the Russian army, does not show many visible traces except for a missile attack on Tuesday which hit the headquarters of the regional administration leaving 28 dead according to a last report, the city is very changed.
The advance of Russian forces in Ukraine, this Thursday. /AFP
For several weeks, the sound of electric saws has been echoing in the main roads. Hundreds of large trees are felled in the aisles and then felled on the spot.
In the absence of an official announcement, residents speculate on the reasons for this urban deforestation campaign.
According to a florist, it could be to prevent seasonal allergies, to widen arteries for military purposes or to prevent falling trees from ripping out power lines.
But a rescue worker, Pavel Katsan, involved in the slaughter, claims to know why. “We felled these trees to provide firewood for the homeland defense men,” who have been joined by many civilian volunteers since the Russian invasion, he explains.
“We also sacrifice part of the spring to avoid allergies,” he confirms, “but this year is special.”