THE first time I came to Mykolaiv was in August 2022 when the war was then 186 days old. In all that time, this southern Ukrainian city had escaped bombardment on only 25 of those days. In fact, Mykolaiv had been among the first places attacked after Russian president Vladimir Putin gave the order to invade Ukraine on February 24 of that year.

Almost exactly two years on to the day from that invasion, I’d like to say that much has changed positively for Mykolaiv and its 500,000 or so citizens, but almost from the moment of my arrival a few days ago, the air raid sirens have rarely ceased.

Admittedly, the Russian missiles and drones are not getting through with the same regularity, but that’s not for want of Moscow’s military trying their damnedest.

Early yesterday morning, for over an hour and a half, Ukrainian air defence units intensively repelled incoming Russian kamikaze Shahed drones, shooting down all 10 of those that had been tracked as being launched at Mykolaiv and neighbouring Odesa regions.

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And there you have it, the simple unequivocal evidence that air defence systems help save lives even if Ukraine’s Western allies continue to drag their feet in supplying such countermeasures.

The bottom line here is that as the second anniversary of the invasion passes, Ukraine finds itself at a crossroads. Ukrainians I speak with here in Mykolaiv just as elsewhere across the country, are acutely aware that waning external assistance is now a reality that threatens their future and that of their country’s freedom.

In the US, President Joe Biden has been unable to push through Congress an aid package for Ukraine due to opposition within the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Europe is grappling with its own limitations. Germany, despite increasing its military aid, has stopped short of providing pivotal Taurus missiles. That news went down like a lead balloon here in Ukraine, only adding to the feeling that many Ukrainians have of being increasingly left high and dry despite all the promises they were given.

They know too that any continuing UK support will be subject to the vagaries of the upcoming UK election.

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It’s a measure of how significant the danger remains for citizens of Mykolaiv that Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, had to cut short her visit the other day to the city and flee after threats from air strikes and reports that a Russian reconnaissance drone had been tracking her.

Baerbock’s visit was to a waterworks facility in the city, another sign of Mykolaiv’s lingering problems that were very much evident when I was last here. Back then shelling took out the Mykolaiv-Dnipro pipeline and the water that came out of the taps was subsequently tainted a dark yellow, sulfuric-smelling and salty to taste.

But these past days I’ve again witnessed queues of people at improvised pipe stands for fresh drinking water. At one stand in the city a few days ago I watched as residents carrying a cluster of plastic bottles queued to fill up with a daily supply from what has become known as the “water tram” which carries a huge container. For the water authorities in Mykolaiv, every day is still about crisis management.

Those in the UK and elsewhere who maintain that it’s high time Ukrainians fend for themselves in this war would do well to consider two things. The first is that they are doing everything conceivable within their power to do just that.

From very early in this war, Ukrainians sensed they would be embarking on a path of self-reliance, a journey marked by resilience and strategic innovation in the face of adversity.

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Back in August 2022 when I first came to Mykolaiv, almost every street was a reminder of the defensive posture Mykolaiv existed in. At junctions and street corners, piles of tyres sat ready to be set alight should Russian forces come back to the city as they did to Mykolaiv’s outskirts in March of that year.

Back then too, Russian forces attacked with tanks, artillery and fighter jets, pummelling the city on three sides. Put in simple terms, Mykolaiv and its defenders were pretty much the only thing that stood in the way of Russian troops advancing on the grand strategic and economic prize that is the port city of Odesa. Mykolaiv’s citizens remain aware of that acute sense of danger from a ground offensive should Russian forces succeed in pushing back into neighbouring Kherson.

Two years ago, it became the first major Ukrainian city to fall, as Russian forces swept in from Crimea but it was liberated by Kyiv’s forces nine months later and today, as the war enters its third year, residents there describe the shelling from Russian forces under a mile away across the Dnipro River as the worst yet.

And so the citizens of Mykolaiv, like so many of their fellow Ukrainians look on anxiously, sharply conscious that their future could well depend on the continuing supply of Western aid and support.

The National: A soldier on the Dnipro RiverA soldier on the Dnipro River

This once famous shipbuilding city last week found itself twinning with my own home city of Glasgow which itself of course has quite a renowned history in that industry.

During my previous visit here I recall looking out from what remained of the upper storeys of Mykolaiv’s Regional Administration building that was destroyed by a Russian air strike

A Ukrainian official I was with pointed out the neighbouring shipyard which sits a few miles away and has long been at a standstill because of the war.

“That’s where the Russian cruiser Moskva was built,” he told me, pointing at the giant cranes and derricks a few miles away.

“That red building there is where for centuries the Black Fleet admiralty were based,” he said, again swinging his arm to the right.

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It was, of course, the sinking of the Moskva by Ukrainian forces in April 2022 that provided a huge morale boost for Kyiv and an embarrassment for the Kremlin in much the same way Ukraine’s later attacks on Crimea had a similar effect.

Back then things were more upbeat among Ukrainians who saw in themselves the capacity to halt the Kremlin’s ambitions and set its army back on their heels.

That optimism has been dented of late, as Ukraine and its people increasingly ponder what lies in store for them in the coming year.

Here in Mykolaiv meanwhile, the air raid siren has gone off yet again. It would be wrong to say that people get used to such a thing given that numerous times a day it serves as a pointed reminder that the threat this war poses is a long way from over.