The bloody struggle of a Ukrainian town to stop Russian invaders from taking over a nuclear power plant and vital port of Odesa

Odesa -- At least 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the three weeks since Vladimir Putin's military invaded Ukraine. Putin's government tells the Russian people, however, that only a few hundred soldiers were killed.

The bloody struggle of a Ukrainian town to stop Russian invaders from taking over a nuclear power plant and vital port of Odesa

CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay was in Voznesensk (a key southern town), where Ukraine's defenders were able to repel an attack from a better-equipped Russian force.

This is yet another example of Ukrainian forces putting up a remarkable resistance. It left grim evidence that a different story was being told by Russia's president.

Putin's disinformation warfare has his soldiers as the casualties. Twelve bodies of the Ukrainian army are kept in a Voznesensk railway car that is refrigerated. The town offers to return the bodies to their mothers. Many were too young for marriage.

However, the Russian military refuses to acknowledge their existence, according to a codenamed "Ghost," a Ukrainian military scout who spoke with CBS News.

Livesay was told by him that Russia treats its soldiers as meat and leaves them to rot.

The Russian invasion force was armed to its teeth and fought the Ukrainian troops at Voznesensk. They were equipped with heavy artillery as well as helicopters. They sacrificed their lives to save the town's main bridge.

The Russian forces would have no problem capturing Odesa if they can get over the bridge. Russia will be able to gain strategic control over a large area of southeastern Ukraine that links its territory with the Crimean Peninsula. Putin took control of this region in 2014 with his last invasion.

The Russian troops thought that they would encounter resistance on their way to gaining this foothold. They underestimated or misunderstood their opponents.

Livesay reported that Voznesensk Mayor Yevheni Valichko said, "They were advancing using tanks, mortars and lots of artillery. They fired chaotically into central city, striking a kindergarten, and close to an orphanage."

"CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell traveled to the Ukraine-Poland border as Russia's invasion of Ukraine triggered the fastest refugee displacement crisis in Europe since World War II. O'Donnell shares firsthand accounts from Ukrainian refugees and looks at how NATO is preparing while Russia pushes the war in Ukraine close to Poland's border in the 30-minute documentary "Norah O'Donnell Reports: Crisis in Ukraine," premiering Friday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBS News app.

The mayor guided CBS News through the rubble and around the anti-tank mines still littering his town.

Velichko said, "This is where they stopped them."

The Russian battalion was defeated in his sleepy village, which is without heavy weapons.

Locals, including 66-year old Sushenko Nikolay Smenovich, a former minesweeper in Soviet army, joined the fight against the Russians.

He said that he jumped out of his chair and fired with his own rifle. "Our commander said to me, "Get back in the basement grandpa!" My heart couldn't take the idea of sitting in the basement. These Russians won't quit. They will all be killed."

This tenacity prevented the invading force to advance to Odesa on ground but has not stopped them from reaching the vital port by water.

Officials from the United States say there are no indications of an imminent amphibious assault, but Russian warships have been firing missiles at nearby towns.

Odesa volunteers are ready for battle, filling sandbags when Russian warships appear on the horizon.


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