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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #20

In Mykolaïv, I have the questionable fortune of there being a particularly loud air raid siren right outside my window. Even though I habitually sleep through air raid sirens (if you dashed to the shelter on the front line of the war in Ukraine every time you heard one, you would never have any sleep at all) with ear plugs in, this one is particularly loud and it has been blaring all night. Indeed these appear to be national air raid warnings, as Russia is changing her tactics. The Russian Armed Forces are now resorting to the use of combat aircraft to fire air to surface missiles across Ukraine, but from outside Ukrainian air space. The hypersonic cruise missiles and longer-range laser guided bombs the Russians have available do not need them to risk their own aircraft over Ukrainian territory against Ukrainian air defences. They can fire their ordnance from military aircraft without ever entering Ukrainian territory. In some cases those missiles may be fired from as far away as the Caspian Sea.

The Russian Air Force has dusted off its previously shadowy fleet of TU-95 strategic bombers, traditionally conceived to be used to maintain an element of Russia’s nuclear deterrent, and fitted them with missiles and bombs with conventional warheads with which to attack Ukraine from long distances. Now cities across Ukraine are being struck with weapons fired from these aircraft. It is unclear why the Russian Armed Forces have switched to using strategic bombers in this way, but one possible theory is that Ukrainian air defences, designed to intercept ground and ship launched ballistic missiles and bombs dropped from drones, are being tested. Does Ukraine have the capacity to intercept ordnance fired from long-range strategic bombers? Over the last night, at least, these tests have been keeping the population of Ukraine awake. My telephone has been pinging all night with warnings of attacks from bomber-launched ordnance, both in the Mykolaïv region and across Ukraine, and although I fumbled to find the silent mode on the ‘phone it was too late and by by 4:45am I was wide awake and contemplating why I had dozens over overnight messages from across the country. Now I know.

The curfew seems to have been broken as a result of threatened attacks on Mykolaïv; I have been able to hear traffic roaring up and down the street outside all night. There again, the curfew does not seem strictly enforced in Mykolaïv, and I still wonder as to the reason why not. It may be that the city is such a hive of military activity that it is assumed that if you are outdoors during curfew hours then you have a legitimate reason for being so. The actual Police presence in the city is nominal, and there are no military roadblocks or checkpoints within the city itself that I have seen, so as a practical matter there is nobody to enforce the curfew. As with a number of Ukrainian cities on or close to the front line, the civilian administration has virtually evaporated as its men and functions have been incorporated into the military regime of martial law. Several shops selling food seem to be open 24 hours a day here, although I have noticed that none of them are particularly well stocked. There are food shortages of some sort in Mykolaïv. I have even heard stories of local people going out hunting in the surrounding hills and forests for food; people with gardens are using them to plant vegetables. This is corroborated by the fact that in the few restaurants that are open, as a general rule the only things available to order are grilled meat and root vegetables.

I hesitate to say that my hotel room is quite nice - that would be an overstatement - but it is better than sleeping on the sofa in the office of a brothel used by members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This hotel has no hot water, no alcohol, no bar, but it does mysteriously have a large gym attached in which few people do any exercise but a number of people come to socialise or show off in their designer clothes. Wars attract strange events. Undoubtedly the best feature of the hotel is the breakfast, the only meal the hotel serves. Again the ingredients seem entirely organic, presumably coming from people’s gardens. The internet is spotty but it is not as though I am resident adjacent to a giant Signals interception base, which was apparently the case in Zaporizhzhia.

Here in Mykolaïv, if you press the same button on your computer a few times in a row, and you remain patient, you can probably connect with the outside world without any significant difficulties. It is remarkable that even though cities may be flooded, bridges may be bombed and roads may be mined, mobile ‘phone masts keep on working through the thick and thin of war. Much or even most of Ukraine is not associated with mobile data networks, but the cities are. In my daily schedule I can currently manage an hour or two’s reliable internet every day, which isn’t bad. However if you want to stay in touch with the outside world then you have to do it when you can, such as at 5am on a Sunday, because the work is so exhausting and relentless on a daily basis that when you return from a day on the road and helping people, particularly in remote communities, you are typically so exhausted that you can do little except flop on the bed or quaff down a beer. A handful of bars in Mykolaïv are still operating, but there are not many people in them because there is no money.

The ordnance from Russia’s strategic bomber fleet has apparently been raining down on different Ukrainian cities all night. I think about World War II, and I recall the experiences of mass aerial bombardment that levelled and devastated cities as a means of demoralising civilians. I wonder what the Russian Armed Forces really have in mind by the use of strategic bombers. Maybe they are implicitly hinting at the possibility of nuclear attack. They like to explicitly hint at this, so this renewed phase of aerial warfare may be part of the same propaganda strategy. However strategic bombers are not best placed to level cities, because each bomber is enormous and the (conventional) payload it carries comparatively small. Saturation bombing needs aircraft to come in right over targets, not to fire ordnance from a significant distance; or the space on the bomber for weaponry is taken up my missiles and propellants rather than by explosives.

Rather this seems to be an exercise in developing creative new ways to conduct tactical strikes upon specific Ukrainian military facilities from a distance using existing Russian equipment, without reverting to the expensive but state-of-the-art Kalbr cruise missiles that Russia seems to have run out of and that were never really designed for firing anyway. They were designed to be sold to foreign countries. I hope it doesn’t continue. I don’t feel as though I have had a proper night’s sleep for some time. Sleep is a luxury commodity on the front line of a complex hot war. I am thinking soon of taking a short break. Odessa has a nice beach, when its port and grain storage facilities are not being bombed; it is only a couple of hours away in a taxi, or about five hours on a somewhat cumbersome local train operated by the mysterious Odessa Railways, that also apparently runs the trains into Kherson about which I can learn nothing. Or I can head up to Kyiv, where life apparently carries on relatively normally. Or both. For now, we have a lot more work to do helping the people of Kherson, and a full day lies ahead.


Any views expressed herein are purely the private opinions of the author and should not be attributed to the Paladins Organisation or otherwise.


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