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Inside Russian leader Vladimir Putin's brutal war of annihilation on Ukraine's port cities of Mariupol and Mykolaiv

Russia attacks Ukraine's Black Sea coast
Russian assault on key Black Sea port cities risks isolating Kyiv 02:56

Mykolaiv, Ukraine — Vladimir Putin's forces are pummeling Ukraine's southern port cities. Mykolaiv was hit again by shelling early Tuesday morning. As CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports, it's a city that stands at a crossroads between Odesa, Ukraine's biggest port that Russia desperately wants, and Mariupol, a city Russia has already encircled.

In both Mariupol and Mykolaiv, Livesay says people are doing everything they can just to survive what Ukrainian officials call a war of annihilation by Russia's leader.

Aerial video surfaced on Monday showing the horrific destruction of besieged Mariupol. Smoke rises from the charred carcasses of apartment buildings. The once thriving port city has been left in ruins. Officials say more than 2,000 civilians have been killed there alone.

"An elementary school was here," said resident Dima, pointing to a space devoid of anything but rubble. "There were no military at this school."

Video released by Ukraine's National Guard shows its armored vehicles going toe to toe with Russia's, zigzagging through residential streets that have become a concrete battlefield.

Ukraine city cut off by Russia's brutal siege 02:35

The brutal urban warfare has left hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the freezing cold without heat, water, food or electricity.   

And while the bombing is chillingly indiscriminate, it is also by design: One by one, Putin's forces are terrorizing Ukraine's major ports as they grind slowly toward their goal of capturing Odesa. To get there, however, they first must get through, or around, Mykolaiv.

Not if the local governor, Vitaly Kim, has anything to say about it. He's taken to social media to show off captured Russian military hardware, and his regular, charismatic videos have gone viral in Ukraine.

@kimukraine Добрий день! МИ З УКРАЇНИ! Теперь у меня есть свой собственный трофейный «тигр» #україна #перемога #война #кім #віталійкім #украина ♬ оригінальний звук - Доброго вечори, ми з України

Asked what he's learned about Russia as a military foe over the last week, Kim laughed and said he had to learn everything from scratch, because just two weeks ago, he knew "nothing about war."

Now he knows it all too well. Mykolaiv has been shelled relentlessly for days. Over the weekend at least four people were killed while hiding in a bomb shelter beneath a school.  

Governor Kim has asked citizens to donate old tires, to pile up and set on fire in a bid to disorient the enemy in case of a full-on invasion. His residents responded, and there are mounds of tires and other barricades all around the city now.

Russian attacks on Ukraine continue
Rescuers pull a man out of a pile of debris after Russian airstrikes hit civilian areas of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, March 13, 2022. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Kim even has a few Ukrainian tanks of his own, which he proudly shows off in his videos.

The charisma of Ukraine's leaders has been wielded as a powerful weapon, and Russia knows it. Ukraine says it's why Russia has abducted at least two of its cities' mayors already, with the goal of being to replace them with pro-Russian puppets.

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