Like most police in most countries, Mykolaiv policeman Oleksandr Chorny has a pretty straightforward job: fight crime, protect public order and help citizens in distress.
On a basic level, the Russian invasion and war changed nothing. Mykolaiv’s taxpayers and their families and property still need protection 24/7. Mykolaiv’s first responders are still out there walking the sidewalks and driving the streets. But for street cops like Chorny, Russian missile and rocket strikes have made walking or driving a policeman’s beat a whole lot harder.
“Our work is more complicated and the stakes are higher, and we have to cooperate with a lot more agencies, but our end goal is pretty much the same as in peacetime,” Chorny told Kyiv Post during an early July patrol through the city of Mykolaiv. “When something happens anywhere in the city, usually we are the ones that hear about it first. When the Russians hit one of our apartment buildings or government institutions with a missile, usually we are there first.”
Chorny, 37, is a member of Ukraine’s Patrol Police, a national police force born in 2014 in the wake of the Maidan movement. The intention at the time was to create a law-enforcement institution that was honest, enforced the law, and that would replace agencies like the venal Soviet-era Traffic Police.
A Mykolaiv native and son of a veterinarian and a factory worker, Chorny was already in the force. As a law-enforcer hired before the reforms, to join the new model Ukrainian police he had to undergo the process of an “attestation” – a committee of outsiders picking through an officer’s work and personal history for hints of corruption or dishonesty. Chorny liked enforcing the law and working outside an office. Attestation committees purged about 10% of the existing police force, but not Chorny.
When war came Chorny, like most police officers in most Ukrainian towns and cities, became the first line of defense against mayhem aimed by the Russian Federation military against Ukrainian civilians and their property. At the same time, just like the vast majority of his coworkers, he had to figure out a way to get his family to safety. Chorny’s wife and children (boys aged eight and 14) evacuated “far from Mykolaiv” in the early days of the war, and no Russian missile or rocket, so far, has hit the family home, he said.
Now a Captain, Chorny commands one of four battalions (approximately 150 men and women) of Patrol Police operating in Mykolaiv, but he still drives out on patrol regularly. The general public knows the Patrol Police best for making traffic stops and responding to domestic rows. During a war, Chorny said, traffic violations have dropped off precipitously, in part because gasoline is much harder to find, but also because citizens tend to drive more carefully, even though there are far fewer cars on the road. Street crime is down too, he said, because in a city under rocket and missile fire, fewer people want to be pedestrians. Couples fight less these days as well, he said, but it’s not clear that the Russian bombardments have anything to do with that.
Chorny said that in Mykolaiv a rocket strike is handled this way: Most likely, a Patrol Police street unit will hear or see the explosion and drive to the site. Less often, information about the explosion will reach a police dispatcher, who will send the nearest unit. At the same time, potential reinforcements and specialist get alerts to be prepared to move, based on what the first responders discover and report.
The Mykolaiv police, Chorny said, is well aware of the apparent Kremlin war objective of killing or injuring as many Ukrainians as possible, and the RF tactic of sometimes following up a shell or rocket strikes with a repeat attack several minutes later, to hit first responders and lookers-on. The threat is real but the Patrol Police must and do accept it, he said, because citizens injured by a strike can be in critical condition, bleeding heavily or with crushed internal organs. Without immediate first aid – almost always by the first patrol policeman or woman – citizens will die.
On more than one occasion he has been one of the officers first on the scene after a rocket strike, and he’s treated casualties and – arguably – kept people alive until the ambulances arrive. He declined to say exactly how often, he said, because he doesn’t want to draw attention from all other people that have jobs to do every time a Russian weapon blows up somewhere in the city.
Security teams cordon off the blast site. Ambulance crews treat casualties, perform triage, and stabilize and evacuate the injured. The bomb squad and sniffer dogs can get called in. The city branch of the Emergency Situation Services Ministry sends in excavators, bulldozers and cranes. But the initial search for survivors is usually by hand, brick by brick. Too slow and a citizen might suffocate. Too fast and shifting debris might crush a trapped person.
“If someone is buried, we all pitch in,” Chorny said. Sometimes, he works as part of an operational staff set up to control work at the blast site. The staff’s work goes on until all persons who may possibly be in the building are accounted for. It can take days.
War has not stopped police work. Investigators show up to determine where an explosive came from, who it hurt and what it damaged. That information will trigger a criminal investigation whose findings, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has said, could bring war crimes charges against the Russian soldiers and officers responsible for firing the missile in question.
The city coroner comes last. On the first day Kyiv Post patrolled with Chorny, six cruise missiles struck Mykolaiv. On the second day, a total of 24 Smerch rockets hit the city. Those two times, no-one was hit. The Patrol Police were first on the scene.
“Every time the Russians shoot missiles at us, we (Patrol Police) respond,” Chorny said. “These days, that’s the job.”
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