Oleksy Vadatursky and his wife Raisa, one of the wealthiest couples in the Mykolaiv region, were killed in a Russian missile strike this summer. They both could have left the city and fled abroad; indeed, Vadaturskiy’s total wealth was estimated at around $450 million, almost equal to the budget of the entire Mykolaiv region. Before his death, Vadatursky served as Director General of Nibulon, Ukraine’s largest agricultural company, which exports grain and has managed to maintain a fleet to transport goods by river. The missile that killed him hit precisely the part of his large house where he spent the nights.
His son Andriy, once a Ukrainian MP, is sure that Vadatursky was targeted: the missile that killed Vadatursky directly struck his bedroom. That attack came on a night when Russia launched its most massive shelling on the city with around 40 missiles, just a week after Moscow signed a deal to lift grain exports from Ukraine. Such a loss caused the local authorities to speed up their efforts to eradicate any Russian sympathisers who had helped guide the strikes.
Such tragic mornings have become common for Mykolaiv, a city that sits on two rivers and was once a prominent shipbuilding region. The front line of the occupied parts of the Kherson region is about 45 kilometers away, which makes the city the closest to the enemy’s lines. Russia would like to seize the city and region because it is the easiest path to capture Odessa, Ukraine’s largest southern city. The Kremlin might even claim some sort of victory if this happens. But Mykolaiv continues to fight desperately to prevent Moscow from gaining any limited tactical success.
That is why Russia shells Mykolaiv: to make its citizens panic and leave, to make its businesses fold, and to force Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to give up territory and compromise with Putin. However, Russia doesn’t shell random civilian facilities in Mykolaiv.
According to Oleg, a 45-year-old and a local businessman who declined to provide his surname, Moscow attacked the city’s schools as it believed there were military personnel on rotation resting there. Oleg believes this is the only logic for it, as students and teachers were not there over the summer. He also thinks that many large supermarkets and hotels, especially downtown, were attacked as pro-Russian informers thought humanitarian stores were present.
Many other civilian locations became targets as some people decided to spy on military positions and provide the enemy with intelligence. Allegedly this was due to financial incentives or the taking up of promised positions in the occupiers’ administration if the Russians gained control of the city.
In one particularly notable and horrific example, the city’s newly-renovated hospital building where injured soldiers were being treated was almost destroyed early one morning. Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Senkevich explained that this attack was arranged with the help of an “informer” who decided to help the Russians because his daughter was deprived of her right to study school subjects in Russian. Senkevich says that the Russian language was only banned in schools immediately after the invasion.
The Mykolaiv region’s governor, Vitaly Kim, announced an all-weekend curfew from August 5-8 to investigate suspected informers and hold them accountable; around 400 people were checked and 20 criminal probes were opened. It was one of the largest curfews in the south of Ukraine since May 9. Kim had previously declared a unique option for Mykolaiv citizens during the war: he would give a person $100 for valuable information on those whose “efforts” would harm the city. Then the police and the military would check the claims, and the person who reported hostile activity would be rewarded if the information proved to be correct.
This tactic worked, but in a different way than expected. Almost everyone whose claims were verified refused to accept the money or donated it to the army. “People just want to sleep well,” said Dmytro Pletenchuk, press officer of the Mykolaiv Regional State Administration in an exclusive comment. He added that those $100 rewards come from Kim personally, not the state budget. Enemy informers not only gather the information but also create a false sense of Mykolaivans’ support for Russia, claiming that people are waiting for Russia’s reign. However, if that had been the case, the city would have already fallen under Moscow’s control.
Such a massive operation came during one of the most crucial periods of the conflict when Russian shelling intensified and became more violent and costly. These efforts from local authorities helped calm people down and even got some to return to the city despite feeling betrayed when they saw the news that some informers had been arrested.
Local authorities wanted to get rid of collaborators before the Russians had claimed they could counterattack, as they had already moved around 25,000 troops into the south back in August, hinting at a significant shift in the war from the east to the south.
At the same time, it is Ukraine that conducted one of the largest successful counteroffensives since World War II in the east and already liberated an area of 500 square kilometres; added to this are further gains in the south in the Kherson area. In this regard, deterring enemy informers is another essential front where the lives of civilians are at stake.