On the municipal beach of Nikopol in southern Ukraine, barbed wire, sandbags and other defenses have taken the place of children playing on the sand.
Blast against it, the Russians control the other bank of the Dnipro, the river that divides Ukraine between east and west.
Planted in the sand is a slightly rusty sign asking people to pay attention – a polite warning requesting not to disturb a neighbor lying on a towel, in order to control a ball.
It recalls the carefree days before February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
In early March, Russian troops captured Energodar, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, located opposite Nikopol.
Collisions at the plant raised the specter of a catastrophe similar to that of Chernobyl in 1986.
But except for a burned-out administrative building, the six reactors appeared intact when Russian troops took journalists on tour.
For the inhabitants of Nikopol, the wide expanse of the Dnipro has become a natural border with the Russians.
“It is forbidden to enter the water. It is too dangerous,” a soldier told AFP.
On the beach, everything seems ready to take on enemy soldiers when they decide to cross the river, with barbed wire and sandbags piled high.
At a nearby sports club, owner Alexander Zagrydny has set up a telescope that allows members to oversee the other bank.
“We don’t see any more Russian armored vehicles. We are a little relieved,” he said.
But he is frustrated that he can no longer sail.
“I can’t imagine my life without the Dnipro. I’ve been navigating it since I was a kid,” sighed the athletic 50-year-old whose wife left Nikopol with other residents to avoid the risk of war.
Control of the Dnipro was seen as an important goal of the Kremlin in the early days of the war.
The roughly 2,300-kilometer-long river, which rises in Russia before winding past Belarus, travels more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) through Ukraine to the Black Sea.
“Once you control the crossing points along the Dnipro, you get real freedom of movement between eastern and western Ukraine,” a Western military expert said in late February, when the Russian army seemed poised to take Kiev.
But Russian forces on the northern front repeatedly faced setbacks and retreated to focus on Donbas, the eastern area where Russian-backed separatists have been at war with Kiev since 2014, and in the south.
“While there may have been talk about how Russia would ascend to the Dnipro in an attempt to seal that off and head west, now it looks more like a defensive border that can help Russia bolster what it already has,” said Andrew Lohsen, an analyst. for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Taking the Dnipro river cities of Zaporizhzhya and Dnipro, whose pre-war populations were 800,000 people and one million respectively, “would be a very difficult battle considering how badly they failed at other attempts to take cities,” he said.
Unless, of course, the Russians destroy these cities, such as the southern port of Mariupol, Lohsen said, pointing out that Zaporizhzhya has one of six hydroelectric dams on the river, the destruction of which would have catastrophic consequences, as the Energodar nuclear power plant is tens of kilometers away. is downstream.
Anatoliy Kovalyov, the rector of the Odessa National University of Economy, said the Dnipro is a lifeline for Ukraine, accounting for 10 percent of the total electrical output.
Thirty bridges connect the east, which is rich in mining resources, with the west of Ukraine, where they are processed and transformed.
“Ukraine’s entire economy depends on transportation” between the two banks, Kovalyov said.
“The main task” for the Ukrainian armed forces is now to “protect the bridges”, which will guarantee the maintenance of a “solid and united state”.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)