'We will blow it up': Last bridge to Kyiv stalls Russian advance

Dmitry Zaks - Agence France-Presse
'We will blow it up': Last bridge to Kyiv stalls Russian advance
An Ukrainian serviceman looks through binoculars towards the town of Stoyanka at a checkpoint before the last bridge on the road that connects Stoyanka with Kyiv, on March 6, 2022.
AFP / Aris Messinis

BILOGORODKA, Ukraine — The explosives tied under the belly of the last bridge standing between advancing Russian soldiers and Kyiv sadden Ukrainian volunteer forces sergeant "Casper".

His fellow commanders have blown up all the other bridges on the western flank of the Ukrainian capital in a desperate bid to slow the Russian tanks.

The one still spanning a stream in the town of Bilogorodka leads to leafy villages that were once filled with summer cottages and are now a war zone.

The historic city of Kyiv would be effectively cut off from much of its western hinterland should Casper receive the order to blow the bridge up.

"We will try to do everything possible to keep it standing," the former paratrooper told AFP on Sunday.

But the fighting is getting closer and the mood among the Ukrainians manning the barricades is turning morose.

Russian warplanes have joined the ground forces and are bombing the surrounding villages and towns.

The flood of people fleeing for safety seems never-ending.

And the rare hours of silence between the battles make the Ukrainian soldiers worry that the Russians are just reloading for an even more ferocious push.

Casper looks up at the Ukrainian surveillance drone buzzing over the frontline and admits that the hour may soon come when he is forced to sever Kyiv's last link to its western lands.

"If we get the order from on high, or if we see the Russians advancing, we will blow it up," he said.

"But we'll make sure to sink as many enemy tanks as we can while we do it."

Shrinking city

The Ukrainian capital's boundaries are shrinking and its streets are growing more dangerous and deserted by the day.

Another Russian push on the east bank of Kyiv's Dnipro River has seen some forces approach to within about 50 kilometres (30 miles).

But the west offers the Russians a more direct route to the heart of Kyiv and its prized government district.

Some of the city's residents — almost uniformly defiant but increasingly grim-faced — are preparing for guerrilla warfare.

Auto repair shop owner Oleksandr Fedchenko is one.

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 centre aimed at giving some muscle to Ukraine's vastly outgunned volunteer units.

"When the war started, everything changed," Fedchenko said.

"We discovered that our regular mechanics knew how to manufacture weapons. Others knew how to make Molotov cocktails. We are doing absolutely everything we can."

Underground weapons

All the workers at Fedchenko's repair shop have swapped their grease-stained overalls for the olive uniforms of Ukraine's volunteer units.

A mechanic-turned-volunteer fighter who adopted the nom de guerre "Cross" was soldering a large-calibre machine gun Ukrainian troops had earlier grabbed from a captured Russian tank.

The 28-year-old was trying to slice down the massive gun and convert it into a handheld weapon that an untrained volunteer might be able to use on the streets.

"This thing might not shoot very straight, but at least it's something," Cross said and gave his balaclava a reassuring tug.

"Not many people know we do this and it might not be very legal," he said.

"But when there is a war, what is legal no longer matters — only our national defence does."

No man's land

Fedchenko's voice broke and his eyes glistened when recalling life before Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24.

"I felt helpless. Stick a Kalashnikov in my arms, and I wouldn't last 10 minutes. But I needed to do something," he said.

His makeshift weapons manufacturing plant is woefully exposed to a Russian missile strike.

The huge garage sits on a road marking Kyiv's westernmost point. Numerous similar industrial buildings along the same route now stand in ruins.

"Each one of us knows that we can be attacked at any moment," Fedchenko said.

"Each one of us knows that this can be our last day. And still we come."

The tears were also streaming down the cheeks of pensioner Ganna Galnychenko.

The 64-year-old walked out alone from the fields marking the no man's land between the bridge overseen by Casper and Russian-held villages.

"I don't know where my children are," she said in a quivering voice. "I can't reach them by phone."




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 24, 2022 - 8:07am

President Vladimir Putin says he hopes that Moscow and the West could find a solution to the raging security crisis over Ukraine, but also accused Washington of using Kyiv as a "tool" against Russia.

"I hope that in the end we will find a solution, although it will not be simple," Putin says, indicating he was ready for more talks with the West, which has accused Moscow of massing more than 100,000 troops on the border and plotting to invade Ukraine.

"It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine... but its main task is to contain Russia's development," Putin says. — AFP

June 24, 2022 - 8:07am

The United States is sending a new batch of military assistance to Ukraine, the White House says, with the $450 million shipment including four more advanced rocket systems to use against Russian invasion forces.

"This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems," White House spokesman John Kirby says. Also included are tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition and patrol boats.

The rocket systems known as HIMARS are at the top of Ukraine's wish list as the pro-Western country battles a Russian invasion force advancing through the east of the country with the help of a significant advantage in heavy artillery. — AFP

June 21, 2022 - 8:25am

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says in an interview with NBC News that the two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv's military were "endangering" Russian soldiers and should be "held accountable for those crimes." 

The interview marks the first time the Kremlin has commented on the cases of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans, according to NBC.

"They're soldiers of fortune and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their lives," Peskov tells the network, in English. — AFP

June 19, 2022 - 2:29pm

The war in Ukraine could last "for years", NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned in an interview published Sunday by German daily newspaper Bild, while reiterating calls for Western countries to provide long-term support to Kyiv. 

"We must be prepared for this to last for years," the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said.

"We must not weaken in our support of Ukraine, even if the costs are high -- not only in terms of military support but also because of rising energy and food prices." 

He told Bild that the food and fuel costs are nothing compared to the one paid daily by Ukrainians on the frontline, warning "we would have to pay an even greater price" if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to achieve Moscow's goals in Ukraine.

The NATO chief has in the past week ramped up calls for alliance members to back Ukraine in its fight against Russia's invasion.  — AFP

June 18, 2022 - 1:42pm

President Volodymyr Zelensky hails Brussels' support for Ukraine's European Union bid a historic achievement, as his country's eastern Donas region faced intense Russian shelling. 

Brussels spearheaded a powerful show of European solidarity on Friday by backing Kyiv's bid for EU candidate status, an endorsement that could add Ukraine to the list of countries vying for membership as early as next week. 

The European Commission is set to meet at their Brussels summit on Thursday with all 27 leaders already backing Kyiv’s candidacy and the heads of the bloc's biggest members -- France, Germany and Italy -- giving full-throated support to the idea. — AFP

June 18, 2022 - 10:47am

A Russian state TV channel airs videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, stating they had been captured by Russian forces. 

United States President Joe Biden had said earlier Friday he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans whose relatives lost contact with the pair.

The missing Americans -- including a third identified as a former US Marines captain -- are believed to be part of an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops. — AFP

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