MYKOLAIV – The first air raid alarm sounded over Mykolaiv at 1:01 a.m. and for the next four hours explosions thundered as Russian missiles rained down on this already battered southern port city.
At dawn, a hotel, a sports complex, two schools, a gas station and dozens of houses are in ruins. Emergency teams racing between blast sites were working to establish the total number of casualties – with one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, and his wife among the dead.
Mr Vadaturskyi’s company, Nibulon, confirmed that he and his wife, Raisa, died at their home.
Tributes to Mr Vadaturskyi – who was declared a “hero of Ukraine” more than a decade ago for his contributions to society – poured in from across the country as news of his death spread. President Volodymyr Zelensky called it “a huge loss for Mykolaiv and for all of Ukraine”.
Mr. Vadaturskyi made his fortune in the agricultural industry: his company, Nibulon, built storage facilities and infrastructure needed to export grain.
He was killed just as the first shipments of grain since the start of the war in Ukraine were being loaded onto freighters in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports after a months-long blockade. On Sunday, Turkey – which, along with the United Nations, helped broker a deal to move the grain forward – said the first ship carrying grain was due to leave the port of Odessa as early as Monday morning.
It was unclear whether Mr. Vadaturskyi was directly targeted or whether he, like thousands of civilians killed by Russian bombs, was in just the wrong place at the wrong time.
Firefighters at the scene of the strike said the remains of the Vadaturskyis had been removed from the basement of the family home, which had been reinforced with sandbags. Footage from the scene that was shared with The New York Times showed that much of the house was missing from what looked like a direct hit.
Oleksandr Senkevych, the town’s mayor, said on Telegram that the nightly strikes were perhaps the heaviest bombardment his community had suffered since the early days of the war.
Mykolaiv has been the target of relentless air assaults since the Russians failed in their attempt to capture the city on their way to Odessa, Ukraine’s main port.
Vitaliy Kim, head of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration, said “Mr. Vadaturskyi’s contribution to the development of the agricultural industry and shipbuilding, the development of the region is invaluable.”
Born in the Odessa region on September 8, 1947, Mr. Vadaturskyi was the child of collective farmers, according to a 2016 interview with the US-Ukraine Business Council.
In Soviet times, he specialized in the production and distribution of bread. He founded Nibulon in 1991 and within three decades grew it into one of Ukraine’s most successful companies.