An ordinary Friday on September 22nd completely altered the relatively peaceful life in the occupied city of Sevastopol. Ukraine launched a missile strike on the headquarters of the russian Black Sea Fleet. After this event, according to local residents, the life of the city was divided into "before and after".
"Before this, we understood that we were living in a state of war, that missiles and drones could hit at any moment, but it all seemed somewhere far away, in the Black Sea waters, at some military bases or airfields. And now, missiles hit the city center. It changes everything", - said Svitlana, a resident of Sevastopol, to OstroV.
Ukraine's Special Operations Forces (SOF) claim that during the missile strike on the russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol on September 22nd, 34 officers were killed, and 105 russian soldiers were injured. Among the deceased was Admiral Victor Sokolov, the Commander of the russian Black Sea Fleet (the russian side has not officially confirmed his death and has shown him as supposedly alive after the attack).
"The headquarters building is beyond repair". - the SOF statement reads.
However, no losses can compare to the symbolism of this attack.
The headquarters of the russian Black Sea Fleet was considered a symbol of the city for Sevastopol residents. It towered over its central part and was a tourist attraction.
"It's the very heart of the city, almost like Independence Square for Kyiv. Many city residents and tourists would go up the hill, to the headquarters area, to enjoy the city's panorama; it's a beautiful and attractive place. After the cruiser Moskva, this is the most symbolic blow to the russian fleet, trust me. And it doesn't matter how many military personnel died there; what matters is the symbolism. This is the first real attack on Sevastopol, on its center, its heart", - said Natalia, a city resident who witnessed the attack on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the center of Sevastopol, to OstroV.
According to her, local residents couldn't believe until the end that such an attack had occurred in broad daylight.
"But everything was so obvious that no tales about air defense and successfully shot down missiles could work. People were initially shocked, but then they quickly came to a clear understanding that Sevastopol was in the crosshairs, that the "special military operation" was not going according to the plan, and that life in the city would now change drastically and would no longer be the same as before", - she noted.
The sanctity of the russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters is emphasized by political philosopher, lecturer at Charles University in Prague, director of the Free russia Institute, Alexander Morozov.
"The Ukrainians destroyed the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. This is a very significant event and a very calculated move. The official kremlin media either silence this message or somehow disguise it, but at the same time, the population understands that it's not just an oil depot burning but the most sacred point of patriotic mythology in the 'City of russian Glory'.
The Z-activists and their audience, after the defeat of Prigozhin and grim descriptions of the state of the russian defense in southern Ukraine, are already in a highly disoriented and depressed state, where there is a prevailing atmosphere of defeatism. It's akin to the "atmosphere of 1916 among the monarchists", meaning "betrayal is everywhere", "the tsar understands nothing", "Rasputin is at the court, and the General Staff can't decide anything" and so on. Ukrainians threw a missile that hit the mark right into the heart of this turmoil. When asked if it has any impact on the russian population, the answer is yes, of course, but not in the sense that the population "realizes" something (like their "responsibility" for this war or any other phantoms) – but in the same sense that it did in 1915 when the retreat from Galicia had an impact: i.e., "something is wrong with us, why is that? What is the leadership looking at? Why can't the leadership do anything?" And the leadership at various levels is looking at the burning Black Sea Fleet headquarters and thinking, "What's next?" – he wrote on Facebook.
The day that changed life in the city
It all started when in the Sevastopol bay on the morning of September 22, the occupiers deployed smoke screens and halted the movement of maritime passenger transport. Local Telegram channels as usual reported that military exercises were being conducted in the city, urging people not to panic and so on. However, several hours later, a missile strike was delivered on the headquarters of the russian Black Sea Fleet.
A local resident named Serhiy explained OstroV that after the attack on the Sevastopol Shipyard, which resulted in the destruction of a submarine and a large landing ship, the locals were assured that the city was securely protected by air defense systems, and they even talked about a "smooth tourist season".
"And now, smoke screens and air raid alarms – this is our new reality. For a year and a half, we were quietly decaying: periodic explosions, a decrease in the number of tourists, and mobilization. But now, we unexpectedly find ourselves in the epicenter of hostilities. Thank God that so far, the missiles are only hitting military targets, and there have been no civilian casualties. However, our civilians suffer from the actions of the local authorities, which block the bay several times a day, preventing people from using maritime transport to get home or to work", - he said.
Serhiy is one of those who commute to work and back daily using maritime transport.
One of Sevastopol's peculiarities is that almost half of its residents live in the northern part of the city, while they work and study in the southern part. To travel from one to the other, they need to use maritime transport. Of course, there is a land detour, but it is not popular as it takes much more time.
For example, a ferry ride takes 10 minutes, while the bus detour takes about an hour.
"Usually, it takes me about 40 minutes to get from home to work, but the last trip took one and a half hours. When they closed the bay, the authorities started running buses, but there were so few of them that they barely managed to transport half of those wishing to cross. The rest either took taxis, the prices of which skyrocketed instantly, or, like me, simply waited for the end of the air raid alarm and the resumption of ferry services. Many people are suffering, almost half of the city, and the land detour is not properly organized, and nobody cares about it. The main thing is to protect the ships", - noted the Sevastopol local.
Locals have criticized the city "authorities" on social media, who assured that Sevastopol was securely protected and there was no reason for panic:
"As for air defense – where is it? We were assured that everything was secure, and suddenly, in broad daylight, a strike in the city center?"
"All these assurances were made for tourists and for mainland fools. But you have to understand that we live in a frontline city – they're firing quite intensively in the neighboring region".
"Are the red lines still red, or have they turned pink now? Our governor is really useless. No alert systems, nothing. He advises just to stay calm. This is war, and we need a governor who can not only steal federal funds but also organize the protection of the civilian population. Yes, we live in a military town. There are bomb shelters, but everything is closed. In case of shellings, we'll die near those shelters".
"No explanations for the population. No training at the enterprises. It's the same old tune: 'The city is secure, trust only official sources'. He's more like an amoeba than a governor. I hope someone from above kicks him so that he finally gets moving".
"A complete failure of the Department of Security and, specifically, Vice-Governor Gorlov! The city, the naval base, is not prepared for emergencies!!!"
Local residents engaged in the tourism industry are already calculating their losses. They say that if the tourist flow was almost dead before, now "everything will go into the red".
"We had some small options for vacations during the 'velvet season', but after September 22, everything went downhill. We no longer have a tourist flow in our city. No one wants to go to a shelled city with constant smoke screens and the air raid alarms. Even in Yalta, there's no air raid alarm, but here it sounds. So, it’s obvious where the tourists will choose to go. Rumor has it that they might turn the city into a closed area, like a military town, which is why people don't want to take risks and plan trips", - said Maria N., a Sevastopol resident and realtor, to OstroV.
Air raid alarm
The implementation of air raid alerts in the city came as a surprise to locals. Some consider it a necessary but belated decision, while others view it as mere farce.
"Finally, the city acknowledged the danger of missile attacks and introduced air raid warnings. Before this, many here laughed at how people in Ukraine hide in bomb shelters, how sirens wail, but now it has touched us too. Remarkably, locals generally welcomed the air raid warnings; they were needed long ago. Even before the attack on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, we had periodic explosions, but the authorities limited themselves to calming phrases that everything was under control. Finally, they admitted that not everything is under control. In two days of operation, the alarm has already sounded four times in our neighborhood. And I can tell you, it's a terrifying feeling", - says Sevastopol resident Raisa E.
Indeed, since September 25, the russian-controlled local authorities in Sevastopol have implemented an air raid alert system in the city.
In the event of missile danger in Sevastopol, sirens are activated, and alerts are sent via Telegram, broadcasted on local television and radio.
According to the so-called governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, the city is entering "a new situation" that requires a systematic response from the authorities and citizens.
He noted that after the attacks on the Sevastopol shipyard and the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, many things have changed.
"We understand that we have entered a new situation that requires a systematic response. Previously, we and our military faced attacks by drones. We learned to deal with them effectively. And lately, this city was in no way affected or concerned about such threats. Now everything has changed, and we must be prepared for this kind of threat", - he said.
Leaflets are now being posted throughout the city, regarding what to do in the event of an evacuation.
Detailed instructions are circulating on social media about what to do when an air raid alert is announced:
When in a multi-story building and unaware of the nearest shelter's location:
- Close windows and avoid approaching them.
- Shut off gas, water, and electricity.
- Take cover in a room with load-bearing walls, sit on the floor at a significant distance from windows.
When in a multi-story building and aware of the nearest shelter's location:
- Close windows tightly.
- Shut off gas, water, and electricity.
- Grab essential items (documents, phone, wallet).
- Inform your neighbors in case they didn't hear the alarm.
- Assist the children, disabled, and elderly.
- Avoid using elevators and head to the shelter.
When in a car or public transport:
- Stop the vehicle (demand the public transport driver to stop).
- Exit the vehicle (public transport) and seek shelter in the ground floors of nearby buildings or dual-purpose structures (underground passages, tunnels, other artificial shelters).
- Seek shelter in the ground floors of nearby buildings or dual-purpose structures (underground passages, tunnels, other artificial shelters).
"It's amusing how many of us here used to laugh at the Ukrainians who were collecting emergency bags, hiding in basements, and staying awake during air raid alerts. Now, it's our new reality. It's funny how everything is cyclical and unpredictable. Many of us are now looking towards Ukraine to understand what awaits us next: forced mobilization, more serious missile attacks, a cold and dark winter without electricity. Many are pondering if we'll have a situation that mirrors theirs", - confessed Sevastopol resident Oleksandra.
Two days after the introduction of air raid alerts, local residents have already begun to complain en masse that the "authorities" were unprepared for such developments and are now acting hastily and for show.
"And who needs this show? First, do something, and then present it to the people. The war has been going on for a year and a half, and they decided to introduce alerts in one day. According to my son, who was at school during the alert, they asked everyone to go to the gym on the ground floor with panoramic windows. Can you imagine that? Half the school was crammed in there, no ventilation, one restroom, no water, everyone shouting and making noise. Some grades even continued their lessons. It's madness", - said Sevastopol local Mykhailo, speaking to OstroV.
Furthermore, according to him, the air raid alert signal cannot be heard in many parts of the city, such as on October Revolution Avenue.
"And this is a large residential area of the city", - he notes.
Another "outrageous case" described by russian media occurred on September 25th during an alert in Sevastopol when children and visitors of the "Fishermen's Culture Palace" were evacuated onto the street.
"When the air raid started, a man who identified himself as a fire safety officer evacuated all visitors, including children, onto the street. There was a shelter in the building, but the man explained that it was intended only for the staff of the institution. 'You have shelters in your houses', he told them", - the media reports.
Local residents point out that the "authorities" are not handling the current challenges, even though this is "far from the first day of war or air raid alerts". There are many reports that schools, kindergartens, government institutions, and shopping centers are not following a unified scenario or plan.
"They could have prepared for this. Yesterday, during the alert, the 58th school was open, and no one was evacuated. But at the same time, everyone was evacuated from the Sea Mall shopping center. Where's the logic and coordination here? And a neighbor told me that during the same time, the Pobeda cinema was showing movies, not evacuating anyone or even warning them. But they are focused on maritime transport, that's sacred. They didn't think about how poor civilians would cope and didn't offer a proper alternative", - says Sevastopol resident Raisa E.
By Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV