They resemble long-forgotten relics of WW2 or a film set. Tank traps, barbed wire, and foreboding red, mine warning signs snake along a European beach. But these defences are not 75 years old. Not from a film set.
Each of us probably associates beaches with childhood memories of playing in the water’s edge, building sandcastles, looking for crabs & generally having fun in the sun. All these things, along with a thriving fishing trade, took place on this beach; took place before Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine. These rusting defences are positioned along Ukraine’s southern, Azov Sea coast, placed there to deter a Russian amphibious landing. Since late 2015, the only ones playing here now are stray dogs; their dodge a mine Russian roulette often ending with another shredded corpse littering the beach.
A mine warning sign struggles to stay upright.
In 2014, Russian troops were advancing unchecked along Ukraine’s southern coast. Eager to capture the city of Mariupol and push on to create a land border to Crimea, the large coastal village of Shyrokyne barred their progress. It was here; the Ukrainian army and local militia soldiers stopped Russia’s massed invasion forces. Finding itself on the front line, Shyrokyne was to pay a heavy price indeed. In 2015, continued mass shelling and brutal heavy fighting forced the evacuation of all its 1,000 inhabitants. Today it’s one of many shattered ghosts villages and towns littering the 500km front line.
A Ukrainian soldier walks along the edge of Shyrokyne, looking out on the Azov Sea.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol the beach.
With Russia’s forces keen to push on and capture Mariupol, the Ukrainian army feared a amphibious landing, one which would outflank the Shyrokyne defences. And so a once idyllic beach used by locals and holidaymakers alike, was transformed into a desolate killing ground.
Looking west back towards Mariupol, a close-up the concrete tank traps.
Looking east. Two lines of metal tank traps line the shore.
The sprawling city of Mariupol is on the left, with Shyrokyne located on the far right. Russia’s occupation forces hold all the territory further east, including the small villages of Sakhanka & Kominternove. Ukraine holds Vodyane.
The beach defences line this strip of the shore line.
A closer look at the defences. The two lines of dots are the tank traps.
On the outskirts of Mariupol, a large ant-tank ditch has also been dug.
A wider look at the region. The yellow line marks the eastern Ukrainian/Russian border, and since Sept 2014, Russia’s had total control over it. Across the Azov Sea (bottom right) is also part of Russia.