Strip club owner Tina Shumilova ready to fight Putin’s army ‘to the end’

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ODESSA, Ukraine — “Working for Russian TV is a lot of flash and a lot of money,” Tina Shumilova, 38, told The Daily Beast at a volunteer center in the city of Odessa, in southern Ukraine. “You just have to cut off your brain and never ask yourself what your damn function is in this life.”

Tina recalled the time she spent in Moscow, where she says she worked as a reporter at Russia’s main state-funded TV channel, Channel One, before returning to Ukraine a few years ago. Now, instead of working for the Russians, she is preparing to attack as Kremlin forces continue to launch attacks on cities across the country.

After returning to her hometown, Tina said she saved enough money to become a co-owner of one of the city’s most popular strip clubs.

“It’s a much more honorable profession,” she said. “Often you really have a lot of fun, often good money, almost no responsibility. I really like the men we meet here and I hear all their stories.”

Tina said she laughed and cheered when she saw an old Channel One colleague, whom she didn’t know personally, interrupt a live broadcast last week to wave a sign promoting the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine denounced and told the audience that they were lied to. “I’m sure it’s not fake,” she said of the protest. “This ugly channel doesn’t like jokes. Anyway, you can’t fake such an honest message.”

The businesswoman now volunteers as a logistical coordinator at a once-trendy grocery hall, which is now used to coordinate the distribution of groceries, medical supplies, and other necessities for the town’s residents. A giant Chinese dragon model hangs above the crowds of volunteers in their orange safety vests. At the entrance to the food hall, visitors are greeted by a photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greeting visitors next to a sign that reads “THE NATION IS NOT FOR SALE!”.

When war comes to Odessa, Tina plans to take up arms with the other volunteers and fight against Russian troops invading the city. She has left her young son in a safe place — she won’t say where — but is training to fight alongside the military and territorial defenders near Odessa.

“I will fight for my country to the end. Why? Because it’s our country, not Putin’s, not those Russians!” she told The Daily Beast.

Like Tina, most residents of Odessa are Russian speakers and have personal or family ties to Russia. Popular support for the pro-European movement in Ukraine was low in 2014. Indeed, serious clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Maidan movements, culminating in a fight that left 48 dead on May 2.

But now that mood appears to be changing. The residents seem intent on repelling the Russian invasion.

“Everyone has forgotten what happened before February 24, the start of the invasion. We have all pushed aside the past and our old problems and we are all on the same page. It’s fantastic,” says Inga Kordynovska, the 30-year-old manager of the volunteer shelter.

Inga Kordynovska is pictured at her desk.

Tom Mutch

A popular joke in town is that young men used to bribe themselves out of conscription. Now they want to bribe their way into the armed forces so they can defend their country. “Every day I get more than fifty calls from people who want to help, we have more offers of help than there is to do,” says Inga. “They tell me I have to do something, I can’t just watch this damn crazy Putin ruin my country.”

Like many port cities, Odessa has a reputation as a hedonist’s paradise, full of strip clubs, casinos and glitzy nightclubs. All of these places were boarded up and sandbagged. The sandy beaches have been covered with land mines in a reported attempt to prevent an impending attack by Russia’s amphibious assault craft.

It has been bitterly cold here for most of the past two weeks. Heavy snow has fallen across the city — a good thing for Ukrainian defenders, as bad weather makes it harder for Russian forces to launch attacks from the sea. “Thank God for this cold!” said Inga. “Every morning we pray, please God give us disgusting weather.”

Nobody in Odessa pays attention to the air raid sirens anymore. In my hotel, where the staff have to ring our room bell in the middle of the night in the event of an alarm, some guests simply pick up the phone.

Many of the volunteers here are young women who have had ample opportunities to leave but have stayed behind, even if they have had to leave their families to do so. Olha Khazova, a 27-year-old croupier at a local casino, was originally supposed to go to Moldova with her sister for safety, but changed her mind and decided to stay in Odessa. “Here I can help my people and do my part to support my homeland,” she told The Daily Beast.

Moscow had long hoped to have captured this city and initially made quick gains in its southern offensive from the Crimea, after capturing the city of Kherson and besieging Mykolaiv just over 100 km away. The original plan was to conduct a doomsday-style amphibious landing along the coast. But steadfast Ukrainian resistance here has so far saved the city from the horrific fate of Mariupol, which is under an extraordinarily brutal Russian siege that Ukrainian authorities believe has already killed over 2,000 civilians.

Workers here are scared after the bombing of a theater in Mariupol this week, where first responders are currently extracting people from the rubble. “We now know that this will be one of the first places they will bomb because that is where our people are gathering and organizing,” a young woman, who asked not to be named, told The Daily Beast.

Artoym Vasuta, 35, was one of Odessa’s top city guides before the war, and his specialty was Odessa’s dense network of catacombs, whose extent rivals those in Paris and Naples.

“Now, of course, no tourists come here,” he says. “Instead, I show the military around so they can use it to store supplies and set up ambushes for invaders. I know that if we win, my business will come back and tourists will come back.”

Meanwhile, Inga wants to know when other countries will step in to help Ukraine.

“We’re not even asking you to fight the war. We will do. Just hand us the guns and close the sky! Now many of our refugees are going to Moldova. And now Moldova understands that if the Ukrainians cannot stop Putin, he will also come to Moldova, to Romania, to Poland. It’s not our war, it’s the world war!” she told The Daily Beast. “Putin is destroying entire countries. How many people should die? How many people should be killed before it is enough?”

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