Russia and Ukraine: The city of Zelensky resists the Russian invader | International

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Cans of homemade canned tomatoes and pickles, salted vegetables, pasta packets, diapers, sanitary products. The basements of the municipal headquarters of the Ingulets district, in the city of Krivoy Rog, look like a flea market. There, among the bundles of donated clothing, two volunteers are busy organizing the supplies. The city of 630,000 inhabitants is preparing to face and resist the Russian invader. The troops sent by Vladimir Putin intensify their bombing campaign and advance on the southern and eastern flanks. And Krivoy Rog is an appetizing and disputed morsel. The city (in the center-south of the country) is a key steel belt for Ukraine. It is also where Volodímir Zelenski was born, 45 years ago, in a large brutalist architecture building known as El Hormiguero, and where he began his path as an actor with his best friends from adolescence, who accompany him until today, when the world spotlight observes him like the leader of a country at war.

"This is the hometown of the president of Ukraine," remarks Sergei Zherebylo, head of the Ingulets district, the southernmost district of Krivoy Rog. "If the Russians come, we promise that this will be their Stalingrad," he says with a serious gesture in the boardroom of the municipal headquarters before a large map of the city, one of the largest (in length) in Europe, with 126 kilometers long. The Battle of Stalingrad (today Volgograd), the bloodiest of World War II, which ended with the defeat of the troops of Nazi Germany and its allies against the Red Army of the Soviet Union, was a key and turning point for Hitler's invading forces, who never recovered.

And like Stalingrad, Krivoy Rog is an important industrial center —with metallurgical and iron mining plants that are home to companies like Arcelor Mittal— and transportation, providing whoever controls the area not only with access to those strategic industries, but also a good passage corridor to the Dnieper River. “Putin expected a blitzkrieg, a quick ride. But everywhere he finds a fierce residence of the army and the local population, ”Zherebylo concludes.

The resistance, however, does not quench the fear, says Galina Kivshek, who works in the city's courts, and who explains that in recent days, the sirens warning of possible air raids have multiplied. The woman says that she hardly sleeps since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine eight days ago, which he argued was necessary to “denazify” the country and protect the Russian-speaking population —especially in the Donbas region— . "I don't understand what he has to protect us from, we won't let him take care of us," she says.

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Earlier in the week, as the attacks intensified and they advanced on the southern flank to control access to the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov, Kremlin troops launched a reconnaissance mission on Krivoy Rog. They did it from the south, where Russia has reinforced its siege against cities such as Mikolaiv and Mariupol, and controls much of the strategic city of Kherson, thanks to the shuttle provided by the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. , and which years ago had already become a military fortress.

The Russian reconnaissance column was repelled and eliminated by the Ukrainian National Guard a hundred kilometers from the city of President Zelensky, says Aleksei Burnos, a member of the Territorial Defense Forces. "Krivói Rog is prepared to be a thorn in the ass," says Burnos, 45, who patrols with his partner Román through one of the city's squares, almost deserted on a very cold and gray day. “If the Russians come, they will be trapped here. This city, so large and with a complicated industrial area, is very difficult for offensive operations”, he explains.

Volunteers from a university weave a net for the military in Krivoy Rog, the city of President Zelensky. MRS

The Ukrainian and American intelligence services believe, however, that Russia is aided by infiltrated groups of saboteurs in sieges. And that you still have commands asleep of paramilitaries ready to act if given the signal, with the aim of capturing the leadership of local governments. In Krivoy Rog, explains Judge Oleksiy Nesterenko, there have been no arrests for crimes of this type, which can carry up to life imprisonment. Judge Nesterenko affirms that Ukraine is safely moving towards a more consolidated democracy, with free elections and a justice that is being reformed for the better, and that this is something that the Kremlin cannot tolerate.

After the failed barrage two days ago against Krivoy Rog, some observers fear that Putin will apply the same tactics against the city of Zelensky that he is using against the heart of other Ukrainian cities, from Kiev to Kharkov, where he has bombed civilian infrastructure and residential areas. to frighten the population, force them to flee and get that quick ride that would facilitate the occupation. A million people have already left Ukraine forced by Putin's war. And there are thousands of internally displaced people.

Children, families, couples. And universities, such as the Donetsk Internal Affairs, in the city of Mariupol, under heavy siege by Putin's forces, which has been mostly evacuated to the Krivói Rog Research and Education Institute. For the University, as for Lubov Kniasekova, 57, a professor of Constitutional Law, it is the second evacuation. The educational center was originally established in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, since 2014 under the control of pro-Russian separatists supported by the Kremlin. From there, he moved to the coastal city of Mariupol, and now to this industrial town. “It is very hard to have to repack all the things, to leave my house, the classrooms, to think about what will happen tomorrow, but we will resist,” says Kniasekova.

President Zelenski, in a message distributed this week through social networks. Photo: Reuters | Video: Reuters

The teacher arrived a week ago accompanied by dozens of students like Artem Serdechnyi, 20, who is training at the Police Academy. Now they live in the facilities of the Krivoy Rog Research Institute, converted into a makeshift hostel, full of bunk beds, where students and teachers have paralyzed classes and now dedicate themselves to weaving camouflage nets for the Ukrainian army, collaborating in networks of civil resistance and to try to help as best they can their loved ones in Mariupol, in an already critical situation and for those who demand an urgent humanitarian corridor. “I speak Russian, I think in Russian, it is my mother tongue, and I have never felt discriminated against,” says Serdechnyi, who was born in Donetsk, where he had to leave with his family because of the war.

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