Once ridiculed as sympathetic to the Kremlin, Odessa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov likes to collect his thoughts before seeing his feelings about Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
“The Russians are on our soil today and they are bombing our cities, killing our people and our soldiers. Our people are dying,” the mayor of the southern Ukrainian port city told AFP.
“It’s hard for me to talk about any kind of future friendship or relationship. I can’t imagine it,” the mayor added, adding that Russia’s air strikes, the Black Sea blockade and its steel-blue eyes are shining against millions of people. Tons of grain are stuck in his port.
“Putin has destroyed everything,” he said.
Prior to the war, Odessa, 57, made a polarizing career in the tumultuous political scene in Ukraine as a one-time member of the former Kremlin-backed party of local former President Viktor Yanukovych, which was overthrown by a popular coup in 2014.
But as unrest spread in Ukraine and anti-Russian sentiment grew, Trukhanov rose to prominence and was elected mayor of Odessa a few months after Yanukovych was ousted, and the fall sparked violent clashes in the port city.
But now, in the wake of the Russian aggression, thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced, the mayor said, angering Moscow.
With Russian troops just 120 miles away, Trukhanov oversees the defense of the country’s most valuable port in a suffocating Russian naval blockade that has wreaked economic havoc in Ukraine and threatens famine elsewhere if Odessa has large landlocked grain reserves.
“They’re not only destroying our cities and killing our inhabitants, they’re causing economic collapse,” the mayor said.
‘Occupiers and invaders’
The war with Russia was particularly painful for Odessa, even as the city avoided the ongoing brutal ground battles in various parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Founded during the reign of Catherine the Great, the city – with its baroque architecture and sandy beaches – symbolized the glorious days of the Russian Empire and was one of the most valuable ports in the later Soviet era.
And with Ukraine gaining independence, Odessa maintained its deep economic, family and cultural ties with Russia, and in recent years with its own part of the accusation of Kremlin sympathy.
But the feeling is changing.
On Friday, a member of the Odessa City Council unveiled a proposal to replace Russian city and city streets with names of historical figures and to give new names in honor of US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
As Trukhanov noted, the century of goodwill that developed between the cosmopolitan port and Russia is waning with each new air strike.
“With their rockets, they think they are spreading panic and fear among the people of Odessa,” Trukhanov said.
“In fact, they only increase the level of hatred of Odessa residents towards occupiers and invaders.”
‘It’s a crime’
During Friday’s meetings, Trukhanov focused on inspecting the scene of a recent airstrike through Odessa Grinding Traffic in his Black Range Rover, where he tried to reassure residents.
Holding hands, Trukhanov shook his head as locals in the area asked the mayor a number of questions about reconstruction efforts and possible retaliation.
“It’s a crime,” said resident Igor Shopgin, 55, during a survey of a Russian strike four-story hole through his apartment building over Orthodox Easter weekend last month.
“What we can do is fight among politicians,” added Groza Alexander, a retired police officer whose family survived the attack.
Particularly alarming for Odessa residents during certain strikes.
During the May 9 victory celebrations against Nazi Germany in Moscow, Putin laid flowers in front of a monument honoring the “heroic cities” of the Soviet Union, including Odessa.
A few hours later, a barrage of Russian missiles rained down on Odessa.
“What do you expect from the man who bombed the children? People are dying here every day,” said Alexandra Kaseyenko, a 29-year-old Odessa resident. “It’s shocking to many. We were brothers.”
Trukhanov shared his frustration with the surprising turn of events.
During World War II, the Russians and Ukrainians together helped defeat Nazi Germany, the mayor explained.
“No one could have imagined that by 2022 our people – the Ukrainian refugees – would be hiding in Germany from Russian missiles,” he said.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)