”Nobody wants to be cannon fodder there”. Odesa Oblast Civil-Military Administration Spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk tells about the attack from Transnistria, the mood in the region, and the May 2 — interview

Yuliana Skibitska
Yevhen Spirin
”Nobody wants to be cannon fodder there”. Odesa Oblast Civil-Military Administration Spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk tells about the attack from Transnistria, the mood in the region, and the May 2 — interview

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

On May 2, 2014, the most serious confrontation between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces took place in Odesa. The mass fight ended in a shooting and a fire in the House of Trade Unions. There were killed on both sides — a total of 48 people. Most people died in the House of Trade Unions, where the fire broke out and Russiaʼs supporters had their headquarters — and that is why Russian propaganda on the basis of the events of May 2 created a powerful propaganda myth of "Nazis who burned people alive." Every year this date is intense for Odesa — and now, given the martial law and the high probability of provocations, the military-civil administration has imposed a curfew from the evening of May 1 to the morning of May 3. The day before, on April 30, Odesa was fired at with rockets, a local airport was destroyed, and on May 1 a drone was shot down. Babel editor Yuliana Skibitska met with Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa Civil-Military Oblast Administration, and asked him what to expect on May 2, whether there is a serious threat of an attack from Transnistria, and how the region is building a defense.

As of the drone the Ukrainian army has downed today — you already found out it was a scout?

Yes, itʼs a spy. Two versions arise [why it was launched]. The first is to track infrastructure and some specific objects. Because we understand that when they [the Russians] talk about finding the location from space, it is possible [to do that], but itʼs expensive and takes a long time. Drones do it faster. Secondly, maybe it was flying somewhere to the airport area, to see the consequences of what they did yesterday. Plus to keep our air defense forces on alert, because in this way you can identify some gaps [in the defense], something like that.

How often do Russians launch such spies?

Constantly. The intensity may differ. If we work well, I mean the air defense forces, then of course the intensity becomes lower. The Russians start, as I call it, "regrouping": it didnʼt work out this way and they start doing something on the other flank.

In April, we had a score of 7: 0 on enemy planes [meaning that the Odesa air defense forces shot down seven Russian planes in April], so the planes [now] have stopped flying.

Over Odesa?

Over Odesa Oblast. Therefore, the Russians began to use drones more actively. It is both cheaper and the moral losses are smaller — it was not the pilot who was shot down or taken prisoner. With the constant missile strikes now, of course, they [the Russians] need to conduct regular reconnaissance.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

There was news that another S-300 anti-aircraft system was sent to the south [of Ukraine]. Was it sent to Odesa Oblast?

To the south. This is official information provided by the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and we use this information.

What do you expect from tomorrow?

That it will be as calm as possible in wartime. All the possible measures were taken. We understand that the enemy needs a picture [for the media].

The lies surrounding these events [of May 2, 2014] played a significant role for the enemy. They infuriated the masses with the statements that civilians were allegedly killed here. Although I was on Kulykove field at that time. And I saw with my own eyes how they fired from above into the building of trade unions. As people were taken out of there, they were rescued. I remember how a wounded man was pulled out, he was quite old, 50 years old for sure. He shouted that he was from Transnistria. And the boy ran next to him: "Iʼm going to do something bad to him now because my friend was killed." And people surrounded the “Transnistrian” guy in a circle to prevent lynching.

We understand that there are many [enemy] agents, it cannot be non-existent as it was thrown here for so many years. Counter-sabotage operations, in general, are constantly carried out. There is operational information, [and the Ukrainian forces] act in accordance with it. There is some information that will not be disclosed yet. But the results are there too, and I think you know about them. And there are detainees who are being checked now.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

Yes, today there was news [about the Russian saboteur group, which was supposed to shoot down a passenger plane].

There is evidence that these are the representatives of the criminal groups.

Of the local ones?

This wasnʼt specified.

Was the decision on the curfew taken more in advance? Did you have information about any riots, or terrorist attacks?

Everything is complex here. [We decided to impose a prolonged curfew] both to tackle possible attacks and to protect people.

Should we expect an intensification of missile strikes tomorrow?

I donʼt rule this out.

Is the same curfew planned for May 8-9?

I can assume that there will be such an option. Because this is also a sacred date [for Russia].

What can you tell us about working with the saboteur groups? How is it conducted and how active is it now?

This is more a question to the Security Service of Ukraine.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

Okay, then letʼs talk about defense. The topic that worries everyone is Transnistria.

We knew the [occupantsʼ] script [regarding Transnostria]. We said that at least something to create a source of tension would be carried there. Iʼm not talking about it as a place for hostilities yet, although I donʼt rule it out as well. But it definitely has to be the source of tensions. What will they do for this? Theyʼll announce provocations for creating themselves an information alibi. First, they will accuse Ukraine, and then they will conduct a provocation. This has already been done — the so-called MGB shelling in Tiraspol, where RPG tubes were found nearby. This is RPG-27 Tavolga, which has never been used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Only 4 countries have it: Russia, Transnistria — an unrecognized state, Jordan and Gabon. But these tubes were left there. I donʼt know why they [the Russians] work so awkwardly.

They always work that way.

Yes, this is more of a question for them. Of course, the goal is to divert the attention of some of our units, the Odesa Oblast defense forces from the events in the East. We all understand — that direction has to receive most of the attention, the most concentrated evil comes upon us from there.

As for the personnel of the "Transnistrian Army": there are only one and a half thousand Russian occupiers. Well, they can try to get some locals. But the locals are fleeing. Right after the MGB building was shot in Tiraspol, they lined up to flee to Moldova. They are fleeing, in particular through Odesa oblast or to Odesa itself. Nobody wants to be cannon fodder there. Military drills are being held there now, I think these are signals for Moldova. I donʼt really believe in airborne troops.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

Do you mean that they will come from Transnistria to Odessa?

No, that IL-76 planes will fly from Russia, land in Tiraspol, and then military convoys or units will move towards Ukraine. I donʼt think itʼs possible. Because this is geography — they will have to fly through Ukraine, where our forces are stationed.

Many people say the Transnistrian army cannot be taken seriously.

I take everything seriously. Even knowing the [poor] characteristics of that army.

But itʼs still unclear — what is the future goal [of Russia]? Why do all this?

A hypothetical scenario to somehow involve Moldova and Romania in this conflict is possible. And this is another situation for Russia. They will then declare war on the whole world. Using, God forbid, tactical nuclear weapons. Granny Kabayev doesnʼt have enough brains for anything. So, unfortunately, such options are possible. I hope that will not happen.

To what extent is the Transnistrian direction now a priority for the defense of Odesa?

Letʼs just say — itʼs among the risks. We have appropriate scenarios for responding to what is happening there. This is not news for us, we were ready for it.

Can Transnistrian people now legally enter Odessa?

Yes, if they have passports. Not Transnistrian, of course — Moldovan or even Ukrainian.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

Are they still coming here?

There are some citizens who do. Of course, they are checked in terms of counter-sabotage measures.

How do you assess the idea of [the Russian troops] landing in Odesa or the oblast now?

They can have such plans, but there is no implementation at all. Currently, there is no such activity, we donʼt see such preparation. Especially after the Moscow cruiser was drowned. We understand that landing is a very resource-demanding operation. Because a land component is also needed, as well as support from the air ad sea, such as with Moscow. There must be large landing ships. This is a whole complex of actions. Take into account the mining of the water area. Moreover, the Russians themselves made a statement that they threw more than 400 mines into the sea. Did they install them or just throw them out? And what about the storms? The Black Sea is quite stormy. A week or two ago, a mine hit a beach in Yuzhne. We understand that it is very difficult [for the warships] to be in the Black Sea today.

Are the beaches still mined in Odessa?


But, as far as I know, people still go there.

I have also seen such “immortals”.

Igor Hora / «Babel'»

On some beaches, even the territorial defense simply watches people swim.

When we talk about beaches, we are talking about mine and explosion safety and danger. There are mines in the sea, the waves can throw them on the beach. And a lot of people, I think, could come to the mine, "oh what is this?” — and touch it with their hands. A case is known when a car drove into the beach — it seems it was in Sanzheyka [resort village] — pushed the "hedgehog" and blew up. Then people then lost the desire to go to the beach. But now itʼs warm, and people are relaxing. You canʼt get away from this.

Do fishermen stand [on the seashore]?

They donʼt go to sea. Though some want to.

Were there any cases of blowing up in Odesa?

So far, thank God, there were none. I hope we will solve the question with the beachgoers as well.

How is the situation in oblast? How controlled is it?

I donʼt see any deep processes that can, sorry for such wording, tectonically turn something in the other direction. I can compare it with 2014, and now the changes are drastic. Changes in the mood, first of all. In 2014, we came back from fighting at the front, and the locals asked us: "What do you say, how come there are Russian tanks?". Now itʼs different, because it affected Odesa.

That is, you donʼt feel any collaborationist sentiments in the region? Because there were such fears.

Of course, there may be such fears, and apparently, they have some basis. But I personally do not feel such sentiments. Maybe somewhere on the household level, someone can quietly think something like that. But I donʼt know what else needs to happen to change the minds of such people.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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Igor Hora / «Babel'»