Russia-Ukraine war: The battle for Odesa

Two weeks into the Russia-Ukraine war, Kyiv’s forces are preparing for a potential attack by Moscow’s troops on the historic port city of Odesa on the Black Sea.

Situated 300km (186 miles) west of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, the city is seen as a strategic asset by both Ukraine and Russia – and its fall would have significant repercussions, not only for the two countries, but also for the wider Black Sea region, experts warn.

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Russian troops, advancing west of Crimea, have already taken the port city of Kherson and arrived at Mykolaiv, just 120km (75 miles) east of Odesa. Russian navy ships have been spotted close to Ukrainian territorial waters, raising fears of a possible attack from the sea.

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian army is planning a violent assault on the city, calling it an “historical crime”. Earlier last week, he dismissed the civilian governor of Odesa province, Serhiy Hrynevetsky, and replaced him with Maksym Marchenko, an army colonel and former leader of the controversial Aidar battalion, which has fought in the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east since 2014.

Russia-Ukraine war Odesa

The Ukrainian military has already established defensive positions across Odesa, imposed a curfew and set up roadblocks at all entrances to the city of one million people. The ports have been closed to commercial shipping, while the evacuation of civilians has begun.

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Odesa is of strategic military and economic importance to Ukraine. After losing its naval base in Sevastopol following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainian navy moved its headquarters there.

Russia-Ukraine war Odesa
Volunteers fill sandbags to build barricades in Odesa [Max Pshybyshevsky/AP Photo]

Its three ports also play an important role in the economy of the country. Some 70 percent of all Ukrainian imports and exports are in the form of sea cargo – and Odesa handles about 65 percent of that.

Russia-Ukraine war: The battle for Odesa  Al Jazeera English

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