How the tough-talking mayor of Dnipro is keeping his city on a war footing

“Everything goes through us,” he told POLITICO in an interview Wednesday inside the heavily guarded riverside office of his former law firm as air raid sirens wailed across the street. town.

Sirens indicate that a Russian missile has entered Ukrainian airspace, warning the city’s one million residents to take cover. Dnipro is far enough from the front lines to so far avoid attacks by Russian ground forces and artillery systems that have devastated areas around the capital, Kyiv, and the major cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mykolaiv.

But long-range Russian missiles have pounded Dnipro, which serves as the main gateway to the embattled east, since the first moments of Putin’s February 24 invasion.

Filatov believes it’s the increasingly critical role Dnipro is playing in Ukraine’s defense, as well as the fact that the city is made up of “big industrial plants and very smart people, that is, say a large number of responsible and patriotic citizens”, who made it “a very serious interest of Putin”.

Emphasizing this point, Filatov said that “10% of all Russian missiles were fired directly into the territory of the Dnipropetrovsk region”, of which Dnipro is the capital.

He declined to divulge the exact number of missiles, citing military secrecy. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this month that Russia had fired more than 3,000 at Ukraine since the invasion began.

This figure and the attacks on Dnipro and Dnipropetrovsk since then mean that over 300 missiles have been launched here. Of those, Filatov said, 90% hit private property and civilian infrastructure that largely had nothing to do with the Ukrainian military or Western arms transfers.

As evidence, he cited Russian attacks that destroyed an empty fuel canister and a gas station.

“I don’t understand why they pull multi-million dollars missiles at a gas station of old cars. But apparently Russian propaganda said cars were repaired there for the Azov Battalion “- a volunteer combat unit that was formed in 2014 by far-right nationalists before being integrated into the National Guard and which has defended the Mariupol Azovstal plant to the end this year. . “It’s just ridiculous.”

“I didn’t know if their intelligence gathering wasn’t working properly or if it was some kind of general stupidity,” he added.

But he came to a conclusion: “It is simply terror. It is intimidation, demoralization of the population so that it puts pressure on the government.

Indeed, the targets of Russia’s missile attacks over the past month have included shopping malls, entertainment centers and residential buildings, and they have killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

A Russian missile attack in Dnipro last week hit part of the Yuzhmash Machine-Building Plant and the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau campus, as well as the public square opposite, killing two civilians and injuring many others, Filatov said.

Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye – which were central to the Soviets’ intercontinental ballistic missile manufacturing and have served Ukraine’s defense and space interests since independence in 1991 – appear to have been the target. But like many Russian strikes, these missed.

Sitting next to the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and the flag of the city of Dnipro, decorated with a Cossack saber and arrow, Filatov recounted how he experienced the first moments of the invasion and put Dnipro on its feet of war.

He was at his summer home on February 23 when he received a call from military intelligence officials warning him that Russia would invade in the early hours of the 24th.

“They said it looked like the Russians would come for us,” he said, adding that officials had intercepted radio transmissions from Russian forces discussing their orders which had just fallen.

It caught him off guard because Zelenskyy had for weeks, he said, played down the threat of an invasion.

“Unfortunately, the government, despite warnings from our Western partners and the President [Joe] Biden personally, reassured everyone,” he said. “We were told we would be frying kebabs in May.”

Filatov said he took the warnings seriously and due to the capture of Crimea in 2014, he launched preparations for the invasion by February 24.

“We sent clear instructions to critical infrastructure…and I called my specialists together and said if the internet or phone communication is down, how are we going to meet?” he said. He also organized a quick-reaction volunteer force with nationalist militia leader Dmitry Yarosh to assemble at the mayor’s office “in case of hostilities”.

“Around 4 a.m., 30 armed people started arriving,” he said.

Around the same time, he read an article by a Ukrainian journalist in Kyiv which indicated that explosions had been heard in the capital.

“Three minutes later,” he said, “I heard explosions to my left – at a military installation – and to my right – at Dnipro airport.”

The city had been hit by at least four missiles.

“I could see the glow of the fires burning from the attacks,” Filatov said. “I took my things and went to work.”

This included coordinating with the regional authorities in Dnipropetrovsk to erect checkpoints in the region and in particular in the city of Dnipro, mobilizing the Territorial Defense Forces, which is led by his longtime ally, the business leader and politician Hennadiy Korban, and dig trenches around the outskirts of the city.

Eventually, when Russia’s blitzkrieg over Kyiv failed and Putin ordered troops to refocus and consolidate efforts on the eastern Donbas region, the main tasks would be to ensure the smooth passage of critical supplies to the forces. Ukrainians there and to strengthen the defenses of Dnipro.

Filatov declined to give details of any Western weapons that may be circulating in the region, which is roughly the size of Maryland. But he acknowledged his city and greater province played a crucial role in ensuring they got to the front.

“We take care of the defense issues entirely,” Filatov said. “We buy drones, vans, uniforms, canned meat, walkie-talkies, everything the soldiers need. We are looking all over the world for these things. It is a logistics system and a fortification system.

He has won support from American cities, he said, including Chicago and Philadelphia. And it forges partnerships with Osaka and Cologne. Together, these cities and others have provided or pledged around 30 ambulances and other essential equipment and necessities.

It should come as no surprise that Filatov, who drives around the city in an armored SUV with a horde of unsmiling bodyguards, has quickly built up such an effective defense and logistics network.

In 2014, Filatov served as deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk province under his former business partner Ihor Kolomoisky, who was called upon as part of an experiment to appoint influential oligarchs in Ukrainian regions at risk of Russian-led separatist insurgencies in 2014. Filatov’s job was to snuff out any pro-Russian separatist sentiment and groups. As part of this, he and Kolomoisky personally funded several volunteer battalions and offered rewards for captured Russian and pro-Russian weapons and agents. Bounties included $1,000 for machine guns, $1,500 for heavy machine guns, $2,000 for grenade launchers, and $10,000 for Russian agents.

Russian forces never captured territory in Dnipropetrovsk, in part because of these efforts but also because of the determination of Ukrainian volunteer fighters.

Filatov has since fallen out with Kolomoisky, owner of the 1+1 TV channel which aired Zelenskyy’s hit comedy series “Servant of the People”, which catapulted him to fame. Last week, Zelenskyy reportedly revoked the Ukrainian passport of Kolomoiskiy, who also holds Cypriot and Israeli citizenship.

Filatov isn’t so bothered by this, but he is angry with Zelenskyy for also stripping Korban, the head of the Territorial Defense Forces of Dnipropetrovsk province, of his Ukrainian citizenship.

Korban posted on Facebook this week that border guards barred him from returning to Ukraine after a trip abroad.

“I hope this is still just a tragic mistake. I really wouldn’t want the central government to take advantage of the fact that we have a war in our country to start, say, creating an autocracy,” Filatov said. in a rare moment of wartime criticism against Zelensky, which captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world.

Ukrainian politicians have unofficially agreed to rally around the flag and put aside differences and grievances to fight against Russia together.

“War does not give the right to usurp power,” Filatov said. “We don’t need a new Putin.”


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