A town that cannot deny its mining history. Just look at the long chimneys of the many steelworks that seem to defy time.
Parts of this elongated city look like ruined rural villages with brick houses and distinctly Soviet-looking buildings. Populated with more than 600,000 residents, the community has that little gray side of the steel cities, but more importantly, it will also fight as hard as steel for its very survival.
A metallurgical fortress
When the Russians tried to take President Zelenskyy’s hometown with a column of tanks in the early days of the war, they got a typical steel city reaction: the airport runway was blocked by big trucks and the road leading to the nearby town of Mykolayiv was blocked by huge mining trucks about 40 minutes before a Russian convoy arrived.
The kind of reaction that hardly surprises the residents of Kryvyi Rih, people of honor, word and deed, explains Sergey Milutin, as does the city’s darling, the President of Ukraine, he adds.
Knowing what he’s talking about, he first met Volodymyr Zelensky at the age of 17 in 1996 when they entered a popular televised improv and comedy writing contest. A friendly competition won by the future president.
A beloved President
The burly fellow, who has since become the city’s deputy mayor, recognizes the qualities of a man who comes from a working-class town.
To be a good leader you must establish your authority and you will gain respect; and that’s what the president has always done throughout his life, first as an actor and then as a politician.
In the district where the President of Ukraine grew up, district 95, saying the name Zelenskyi is enough for passers-by to say nothing but good things about him.
Tetiana, a 30-year-old who lives in the neighborhood, admires him because, unlike other presidents, Zelenskyy stayed in the country when the Russian invasion began.
He’s doing his best in this war and I think he deserves a second term after the war. A war from which she is convinced that Ukraine will emerge victorious.
And when we ask Vladlena, a young barber from the city, if he finds flaws in his president, he answers negatively:
No, he’s a good person. He himself admits that wartime patriotism probably explains this blind faith in his president.
Zelensky, comics student and unifier
To find out more about the personality of the President, a detour to the university he attended is essential. In the building of the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics, the passage of Volodymyr Zelensky marked his classmates.
Andrii Shaikan stands next to a wooden school desk, painted all royal blue, that the school preserved in honor of the first known actor and the president he later became. He remembers his colleagues from law and finance studies.
Looking at Zelenskyy’s personality, some people think he’s always acting because he’s an actor, he says. Above all, however, it is a manager who is in complete control of the business. As it was here when he was in school. And he had a very subtle sense of humor.
The same story of Professor Natalia Volosheniuk who taught young Volodymyr finance and economics in the 1990s, and the qualities he demonstrated then are the same today.
Even in these early years, he was distinguished by decency, honesty and the will to achieve his goals. He was already a leader because he knew how to bring together and unite the world around him.
A city targeted by the Russians
After Russia failed to take control of the city of Zelenskyy a few weeks ago, persistent rumors have it that Russia may try again to capture that city and the resources it produces. A threat that does not frighten the residents at all. It would be a symbolic and strategic prize for Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize the birthplace of his enemy Ukraine.
In this regard, Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the city’s military administration, is not too concerned. Wearing his green cap in the shape of one of his idols, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, he likes to draw the current front line between Ukraine and Russia, some forty kilometers south of Kryvyi Rih.
Nobody can say that they are safe today because of the Russian invader, but here in the city we have troops ready to intervene in any situation.
Vilkul is confident that his President, a strongman of his country and hometown, will lead his troops to victory.
We only need foreign countries to send us ammunition and military equipment as soon as possible to be able to end the war.
when do you need it we ask him. “Yesterday”‘ he replies bluntly.
For all the praise, don’t try to look for a life-size statue or posters of the President in Kryvyi Rih. Even with such unwavering support. The bearded giant who is fellow contestant Sergey Milutin offers a ready answer.
We don’t have a statue of him but we have something even cooler, he’s in our hearts and he’s the pride of this city and country.