Sandbags and songs on Odessa beach as Ukrainians help build defenses

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Residents of Odessa formed a human chain on Monday to carry heavy sandbags from the beach onto waiting trucks as the Ukrainian port city frantically built defences against advancing Russian troops.

Since shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, civilians from all walks of life have been filling bags with sand, tying them up and transporting them into the city where they have been used for barriers and to protect monuments.

“We work here because we don't know how to kill,” said event photographer Victor Skrypnik.

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Dozens of people milled around behind him and a digger piled up mounds of sand. Occasionally workers burst into patriotic song.

“We are not professional warriors, but we can help our army and 60% of victory is built here by (ordinary) people,” Skrypnik said.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on citizens to join the war effort in whatever way they can.

Tens of thousands have answered his call as Russia's military advances in the south and northeast and is close to the outskirts of the capital Kyiv.

Moscow says it is conducting a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.

Russian troops have not yet reached Odessa, but Britain's Defence Ministry said on Sunday that Russian naval forces have formed a blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Many in Odessa feel it is only a matter of time before fighting reaches them.

Residents are particularly proud of their city. Odessa, with its historic buildings and wide boulevards, was a favourite holiday destination for people across the Soviet Union.

It is also where a 1905 uprising, supported by mutineering Russian sailors, was violently crushed by tsarist forces - scenes which director Sergei Eisenstein famously set on Odessa's giant stairway in his 1925 film “Battleship Potemkin.”

On the beach, organisers said they had moved around 400,000 bags of sand into Odessa so far and that some 700 tonnes of sand were being bagged up each day.

“We are very optimistic here about the situation, because the people are very united,” said comedian Ivan Dyubo.

“You can see that different ages, different languages, different cultures are all prepared to fight for Ukraine, and for the whole Europe actually.

“While NATO is quite silent, we are actually fighting,” he added, echoing growing frustration among Ukrainians that the West is not doing more to help repel Russia's advance.

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