The defense minister visits the Black Sea port city of Odessa in a dangerous secret operation. She has a surprise in her luggage. But the Ukrainians are still not likely to be satisfied.
It’s just before 3:30 p.m. when the sirens sound the air raid alarm. In the Railway Directorate building Odesa Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is having Olexij Resnikov explain the situation in Ukraine’s defensive struggle against the Russian war of aggression. A few minutes later, the defense minister is sitting with her counterpart a few floors down in the authority’s air raid shelter. It has something of a museum: there are old gas masks on the shelves in the anteroom, the large warning signs on the walls are reminiscent of the Soviet era and the Cold War.
But it is a hot, topical war in which Lambrecht drove for a day this Saturday. The night before, there was an air alert in Odessa. According to Ukrainian sources, two Russian Iskander missiles hit an industrial area. Nobody gets hurt.
At this time, the minister is still visiting the small neighboring Ukrainian Republic of Moldova – from the planned visit to the Ukraine the public in Germany doesn’t know anything about it yet. For security reasons, the flying visit will remain secret until Saturday evening.
Also in Moldova the Russian war dominates the talks
It’s pretty peaceful in Moldova right now, even if people are groaning under an inflation rate of around 40 percent – the highest in the country Europe. The gas price has increased by 380 percent in one year. Of the 500,000 refugees who have arrived in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s war of aggression, around 95,000 have stayed. It is said that the mood, which was open-hearted at the beginning, is in danger of tipping over. Moldova has only 3.2 million inhabitants.
In Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, the Russian war also determined the talks. In view of Putin’s threats with nuclear weapons, Lambrecht warns that the West will be paralyzed. She promised her counterpart Anatolie Nosatii further support in equipping and training the army. It is also about the procurement of drones.
On Saturday afternoon, Lambrecht then exchanged her light beige suit and high heels, with which she paced the honor guard in Moldova, for a different outfit. When she changes from the convoy of the hosts to the vehicles of the Ukrainian side at the Palanca border crossing, she is standing between the vehicles, dressed all in black. Top, pants, sturdy shoes – all tone on tone. The 57-year-old may have thought that nobody should accuse her of wearing the wrong shoes again. Like in April, when some mocked that she had traveled to Mali in high heels to visit the troops.
Late summer day in Odessa
So now Odessa, almost 25 degrees, it’s late summer in the city. During the day, life is almost normal, people crowd the shops and sit in cafes. If only it weren’t for the 11:00 p.m. curfew and the many air raid alarms at night.
Protected military positions can be seen in a number of places in the city. In the pretty Black Sea city, they have long expected that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his soldiers will overrun Odessa and allow his troops to continue marching in the direction of Moldova. But the situation has changed. Despite the Russian annexation of occupied territories, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was able to celebrate the recapture of the strategically important city of Lyman in the east of the country on Saturday.
Ukraine urgently wants anti-ship missiles
Back to the air raid shelter. The way there leads past a main entrance barricaded with white sandbags. The ventilation hums in the background, it’s stuffy, it’s getting warmer and warmer. Lambrecht and her colleague are sitting at wooden tables that look like they were used by Ukrainian schoolchildren decades ago. Resnikov uses the 45 minutes of alarm to repeat to Lambrecht that he wants more and more modern weapons.
The Russians shot down a Kalibr rocket, most likely from a ship, Resnikov explains to the German colleague the reason for the stay in the bunker. That’s why his country urgently needs modern anti-ship missiles. Lambrecht only replies that the situation makes it clear how important it is to deliver a first unit of the ground-based Iris-T SLM air defense system quickly. The modern system, which not even the Bundeswehr has, should be delivered in a few days. Direct from the manufacturer.
Lambrecht wants to set a sign of solidarity in Odessa
After previous visits by other cabinet members and also by Scholz to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Lambrecht wants to show solidarity in Odessa, which is repeatedly threatened with attacks. Together with Resnikov, she visits wounded combatants in a military hospital and takes part in honoring particularly deserving soldiers. In an extensive defensive position of the Ukrainians on a hill in front of the city, they let themselves be led through muddy trenches and gun bunkers secured by thick concrete.
Cheetah in the grain port
Lambrecht’s last item on the program before nightfall is on a bridge in the Odessa grain port. One of a total of 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks delivered by Germany to the Ukraine is circling its radar antenna there. The heavy machine is on display for demonstration purposes only – the tank’s actual combat position is classified. Lambrecht, along with Resnikov, speaks to the Gepard crew – all men who have been trained on this weapon in Germany.
With the pictures that are taken on the bridge, Lambrecht sent an important signal: Everyone should see that Germany is supporting Ukraine with heavy weapons like this tank.
Second air raid alarm pulls Lambrecht out of bed
In the middle of the night, Lambrecht is again confronted with the harsh reality of war. Another air raid alarm wakes her up. Shortly before 1 a.m., she and other members of her delegation sought shelter in the bunker of her hotel. The minister went to bed unusually early that evening. For security reasons, she handed in her mobile phone before the trip so that nobody could locate her, the minister says. Actually, she would probably still be reading on her cell phone at the time. After 20 minutes the all-clear is given.
Only later did it become apparent that the concerns of the Ukrainians were not unfounded. It is said that Mykolaiv was actually fired at by the Russians with rockets on Saturday. A rocket hit exactly in the area where part of the minister’s visit program with Resnikov was planned. A block was hit and several people were injured.
According to this information, the second siren warning on Sunday night was not a false alarm either. One rocket hit Mykolayiv again, another one landed between that city and Odessa. Nothing is known about the damage, it said. Lambrecht is back in Berlin shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Without further incident.