Ukraine's military is fortifying its defenses around the city of Odesa
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Civilians in many Ukrainian cities are watching the fate of Mariupol. It's surrounded by Russian military forces. And Ukrainian officials have refused to surrender, even though residents who remain in the city face dwindling supplies of food and water, even a lack of heat. One city that's watching especially closely would be another port city, Odesa, which hopes it will not be the next Mariupol. Already, Russian forces have shelled areas around the city. And NPR's Tim Mak is there.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: During prewar times, Odesa residents and tourists from all over the globe have flocked here for its bustling bars and crowded clubs. It's renowned for its 19th century architecture and its world-famous opera house and has a very highly regarded local jazz club.
EUGENE: You should visit here in the peaceful time to talk with people, to see its atmosphere, this culture, because Odesa is a big port. And it always been a mix of different cultures. It was very multicultural city. We have the Jews. We have Greeks, Georgians, British, French - everyone, basically.
MAK: Eugene (ph) is a spokesperson for the military governor of Odesa. It's the policy of his combat brigade not to provide last names. He's part of a military force that has helped transform the city in a time of war. Now, many of the city's restaurants and its opera house are behind military checkpoints. The streets are lined with barbed wire, sandbags and anti-tank obstacles. And Russian warships and amphibious landing vessels have been seen on satellite images in the Black Sea just off the coast. Here's Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov.
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GENNADIY TRUKHANOV: (Through interpreter) We regularly see the force of the warships of armed forces of Russian Federation maneuvering or emerging near Odesa.
MAK: While there have been no firefights in the city, there have been reports of shelling throughout the region. Ukrainian anti-aircraft fire could be heard as I walked near the city's opera house. Eugene said they've been firing at enemy reconnaissance drones.
Can you tell me how many drones have been shot down?
EUGENE: Yesterday, we shot one. And before yesterday, we shot one.
MAK: Since the war began, Ukrainian forces in this region have sought to prepare the city for the possibility of a Russian amphibious landing nearby. On the third night of the war, Eugene says, Ukrainian forces around Odesa stopped six boats from landing on the city's beaches.
EUGENE: The biggest problem for us was the fighting with sabotage groups, which were landing on small boats and trying to mark the places for landing in Odesa to the main forces. But we managed to stop them all.
MAK: Earlier this week, NPR was permitted by Ukrainian forces to review some of their preparations for a Russian attack. All along the Black Sea coast, usually a hub for beachgoers, the Ukrainian military has set up artillery firing positions and pre-staged their armored vehicles.
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MAK: We saw where Ukrainian soldiers slept and showered - in a Mitsubishi pickup truck. They had placed a large machine gun in the back. At one point during our trip to a Ukrainian military position, we stopped near a gate with an alarming-looking sign. It had an image of a skull and crossbones on it. And it read in Ukrainian, danger, mines.
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MAK: The Ukrainian military had placed mines along the Black Sea beaches to disrupt a potential Russian advance. It wasn't just a warning to the Russian military or to Ukrainian civilians nearby. It was a warning of what the war had done to this sunny, seaside resort and how difficult it would be to one day unwind this all if and when this war ends.
Tim Mak, NPR News, Odesa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.