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Names on a map

Sep 8, 2023 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

It has been quite a while since I started providing a daily roundup on Facebook on developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. My reporting invariably includes summaries of what is happening on the front lines, and I am sure that for many readers, place names such as Bucha, Kherson, Bakhmut, Kreminna, Nova Kakhovka, Mariupol, Bilohorivka, Avdiivka, Berdyansk, Izmail and Robotyne have become quite familiar. I am also sure that most people, including diasporan Ukrainians, had never heard of most of these places before the war. They were and are still just names on a map.

Yet, these places are home to hundreds of thousands of real people, people who have seen and suffered unimaginable death and destruction at the hands of the Russians. Many have fled to safer havens in Western Ukraine, Europe and North America. Many others have chosen to stay and try and weather out the storm. Regardless, it behooves us to know a little more about these places so that they are not just names on a map.

One of the areas of the fiercest fighting has been Bakhmut. It is a city located about 90 kilometres north of the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, and it had a pre-war population of approximately 70,000 people. Prior to 2016, the city was known by the name of Artemivsk. During Soviet times, the Communist authorities had named the city Artemivsk after a famous Bolshevik revolutionary known as Comrade Artem. Finally in 2016, as part of a nation-wide decommunization effort, its original historic name of Bakhmut was restored. Although primarily an industrial base, the city is famous for being the heart of Ukraine’s champagne producing industry. Most of the grapes used in production came from Crimea, so after the Russians seized Crimea, production of Ukrainian champagne effectively ceased. The area also is home to some of Ukraine’s largest salt mines.

The Kherson area has also seen much fighting during the war. The city of Kherson (population of approximately 280,000 pre-war) as well as the oblast (province) of the same name, lie just east of Odesa and sit on the banks of the Dnipro River where it empties into the Black Sea. It was named after the ancient Greek colony Chersonesus located nearby on the Crimean Peninsula. The area is largely agricultural and is especially famous for its watermelons which are exported all over Europe. It also has extensive port and shipbuilding facilities.

Mariupol became famous during this war as the scene of major atrocities and war crimes by the Russians after they besieged the city early in the war, and finally captured it after prolonged, bloody fighting. Mariupol is a large port city along the northeastern coast of the Black Sea with a pre-war population of about 425,000 people. Because of the war, it has been almost completely destroyed. Prior to the war it was home to large steel manufacturing facilities, amongst them the Azovstal factory were some of the most bitter fighting took place in 2022 after the Russian invasion. It also served as a major port for Black Sea shipping. It is noted for having the largest concentration of inhabitants of Greek ancestry in Ukraine.

One of the most abominable acts of devastation during this war by the Russians was the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam located on the Dnipro River above Kherson. The dam was completed in 1956 and the reservoir created behind it supplied water to the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, as well as feeding a large agricultural irrigation system, and supplying cooling water to the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Its destruction caused extensive flooding forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate. Drinking water supplies for over 700,000 people were also severely affected.

Avdiivka is another city (pre-war population of about 31,000) that has been largely destroyed during the course of the war. It is located in the northern part of Donetsk oblast and is one of the oldest areas of settlement in Eastern Ukraine. Archeologists have unearthed signs of habitation here going back over a thousand years. The major industries in the area are a large coke plant, a sand quarry and other light manufacturing facilities. Currently there are less than three thousand people still living in the city which is under Ukrainian control.

There are many other places in Ukraine that are worth researching, that are worthy of note for more than just being the scenes of combat in this unfortunate war. It would be worth your while to do some “googling” or looking at other trustworthy sources of information and learning more about these “names on a map”.

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