The last bridge to Kiev blocks the Russian advance
Bilogorodka (Ukraine) (AFP) – Explosives strapped under the belly of the last bridge standing between the advancing Russian soldiers and Kyiv saddens Sergeant of the Ukrainian Volunteer Forces “Casper”.
His fellow commanders blew up every other bridge on the western flank of the Ukrainian capital in a desperate attempt to slow down the Russian tanks.
The one that still crosses a stream in the town of Bilogorodka leads to green villages that were once filled with summer cottages and are now a war zone.
Historic Kiev would effectively be cut off from much of its western hinterland if Casper were ordered to blow up the bridge.
“We will try to do everything to keep him standing,” the former paratrooper told AFP on Sunday.
But the fighting is getting closer and the mood of the Ukrainians manning the barricades is becoming gloomy.
Russian warplanes have joined ground forces and are bombarding surrounding villages and towns.
The stream of people fleeing for safety seems endless.
And the rare hours of silence between battles have Ukrainian soldiers fearing the Russians are just reloading for an even fiercer push.
Casper looks up at the Ukrainian surveillance drone buzzing above the front line and admits that the time may soon come when he will be forced to cut Kiev’s last link with its western lands.
“If we get the order from above, or if we see the Russians advancing, we’ll blow it up,” he said.
“But we will make sure to sink as many enemy tanks as possible while we do it.”
The borders of the Ukrainian capital are shrinking and its streets are becoming more dangerous and deserted day by day.
Another Russian push on the east bank of the Dnipro from Kyiv saw some forces approach within 50 kilometers (30 miles).
But the west offers Russians a more direct route to the heart of Kiev and its popular government district.
Some of the townspeople – almost uniformly defiant but increasingly dark – prepare for guerrilla warfare.
Oleksandr Fedchenko, owner of a car repair shop, is one of them.
The 38-year-old used to host Ukraine’s most popular weekly TV show about cars in his spare time.
But he has converted his sprawling garage into an underground weapons manufacturing center aimed at giving muscle to the largely outgunned Ukrainian volunteer units.
“When the war started, everything changed,” Fedchenko said.
“We found out that our regular mechanics know how to make weapons. Others know how to make Molotov cocktails. We do absolutely everything we can.”
All the workers in Fedchenko’s repair shop have swapped their grease-stained coveralls for the olive uniforms of Ukrainian volunteer units.
A mechanic turned volunteer fighter who adopted the nom de guerre “Cross” was welding a large-caliber machine gun that Ukrainian troops had previously seized from a captured Russian tank.
The 28-year-old was trying to cut the huge weapon and convert it into a handgun that an untrained volunteer could use on the street.
“This thing might not shoot very straight, but at least it’s something,” Cross said, tugging on his balaclava for reassurance.
“Not many people know we’re doing this and it may not be very legal,” he said.
“But when there is a war, what is legal no longer matters, only our national defense matters.”
no man’s land
Fedchenko’s voice cracked and his eyes sparkled as he recalled life before Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24.
“I felt helpless. Put a Kalashnikov in my arms and I wouldn’t last 10 minutes. But I had to do something,” he said.
Its makeshift weapons factory is horribly exposed to a Russian missile strike.
The huge garage is on a road marking the westernmost point of Kiev. Many similar industrial buildings along the same road are now in ruins.
“Each of us knows that we can be attacked at any time,” Fedchenko said.
“Each of us knows this may be our last day. And we always come.”
Tears were also streaming down the cheeks of retired Ganna Galnychenko.
The 64-year-old emerged alone from the fields marking no man’s land between the bridge overseen by Casper and the villages under Russian control.
“I don’t know where my children are,” she said in a trembling voice. “I can’t reach them by phone.”
© 2022 AFP