The view from the Ukrainian town of Ochakiv appears idyllic. Beyond the beach, a narrow strip of land stretches out across the sea. The peninsula in Mykolaiv province is known as the Kinburn spit. In happier times holidaymakers would take a boat from Ochakiv and camp among the dunes. The nature reserve is home to swans, pelicans and migrating birds.
Last June it got a new and unwelcome visitor: Russia. Soldiers captured the rustic territory, with its summer houses and mini-lakes, and turned it into a military base. Ever since the Russian army has bombarded Ochakiv, which is five miles (8km) away. Truck mounted launchers release Grad missiles, sending them over the Black Sea. Afterwards the crews speed off and take cover amid the mazy sands.
On Friday, the Russians launched their biggest attack yet. At 5am they hit Ochakiv with 72 rockets. Another 50 fell in the district. The barrage lasted for over an hour. The town’s 7,000 residents woke in darkness to the sound of explosions. Two people were injured, one badly. Thermite projectiles fell from the sky and bathed the waterfront in a strange white light.
“They are swine, savages. They are killing peaceful people,” Serhii Kaminiev, a 52-year-old coffee shop owner, said. Kaminiev’s cafe is in Ochakiv’s central market. One of the Grads landed on the roof of a business selling clothes, setting it on fire. The pavilion was a twisted ruin. Charred T-shirts lay in a heap. Homeless dogs wandered among alleys of broken glass.
Aram Alaverdov, a security guard, said it was impossible to predict when the Russians might strike. “It’s good morning, good afternoon and good night,” he said wryly. He added: “In my view Vladimir Putin should be strongly punished. He’s worse than Hitler. Ukraine is like a shield protecting the whole of Europe. If we crack he will keep going.”
Before Putin’s full-scale invasion, Ochakiv was a popular spa resort. In the past many of its tourists came from Russia. “It was paradise,” Alaverdov said. “We are surrounded by water. You could swim, pick mushrooms in the forest or go fishing.” The attacks meant locals lost their livelihoods and lived in state of stress, wondering when the next bomb would land, he said.