Ukrainians report from the front
When they attack, Roman and Ivan face the enemy
September 24, 2023, 3:24 p.m
The Ukrainian military is trying to advance near Bakhmut under constant Russian fire. Even if the enemy is better equipped and their own units lack air and artillery support, the Ukrainian soldiers on the front are confident of victory.
For the advance of Ukrainian soldiers to retake occupied territories, every step must be right. Ukraine’s 3rd assault brigade is fighting at the front. “When we defend our position, we are 50 to 60 meters away from the enemy. When we attack, we look the enemy in the eye,” says Ivan. The soldier came with his comrade Roman to Kostiantynivka, about 20 kilometers from the embattled Bakhmut.
The explosions of the fighting can only be heard here as dark rumblings, almost like a distant thunderstorm. Roman and Ivan, two young guys with full beards, are assigned to the interview by the military and report straight to the point about the pitfalls and tricks of firefights. Their task in the war, which has been going on for more than a year and a half, is to push back Russian troops in the Bakhmut area in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine – thereby overcoming minefields and anti-tank barriers and breaking through enemy positions.
There are detailed discussions before the attack: every step is explained by the company commander and the “spies”. The battle area will be recreated in the sandbox, right down to the landscape details. Then the tasks would be assigned. Some then continued to pray, says Roman. With the beginning of the war, he himself had a tattoo on his neck, which he hoped would provide protection: angel wings held by a cross in the shape of a sword. Then pack for battle. Storm luggage. You tend to take more with you than necessary, but you can still throw it away. The Russian opponents should not be underestimated, “they are also learning,” says Roman. The enemy has very well-equipped units “that only give up when you shoot them.” With their superior artillery, they made life extremely difficult for the Ukrainian foot soldiers, who had to work their way through mined terrain in forest areas and in urban warfare.
There is a narrow window of time at dusk
Other men like Yevhen make the precision of the military machinery possible. The comfortable-looking, sea dog-type captain leads squads of artillery scouts and, during a break in the small town of Kramatorsk, keeps checking his cell phone to see if he is required. His soldiers identify Russian guns, hidden tanks or soldiers in their positions in the area south of Bakhmut and announce their positions for fire from their own artillery.
The enemy is doing everything possible to hinder the reconnaissance officers, says the 55-year-old officer. But at dusk – when the light is already poor but the night vision devices do not yet provide a clear image – there is a narrow window of time. The observers sneak into their hiding places overlooking the battlefield and report what they see. Cameras with live images are being installed and drones are in use. The view extends so far beyond the field of vision. “My job is the holistic monitoring of the battle space,” says Jewhen.
The three observation methods are its “sensors”. He himself moves along the front area in an inconspicuous car, but has already been discovered. He took cover in a hole in the ground while grenades exploded around him. Half of the drone operators have also suffered injuries. “We are better with precision strikes, but when it comes to the enemy it’s the sheer mass of people. And they are blinded by propaganda,” he is convinced. “We observed how Russian officers forced their men into fire even though the situation was hopeless and they could have surrendered.”
A VW bus or a flatbed truck is enough to make a drone squad unobtrusively mobile. In just a few minutes, three soldiers set up a Leleka drone and the control station on the outskirts of the city of Kramatorsk. Two of them have basic military training. “At close range we fly with a joystick, at distance we are controlled by the computer,” says Volodomyr, their officer. He leads a drone force from the 56th Ukrainian Brigade. A map and the position of the drone can be seen on the screens. Your camera image will be transmitted live and also recorded for more precise, later evaluation, he says. Volodomyr wears civilian clothes and could pass for a surveyor if it weren’t for the pistol on his belt.
The drone can fly for up to one and a half hours and cover more than 80 kilometers. Their electric motors are quiet, and yet Russian units can technically detect the aircraft as soon as it takes off. Many drones are shot down, the soldiers say. After 100 flights, the small aircraft needs to be overhauled.
“No predictions can be made here.”
The British Ministry of Defense recently stated that Ukraine’s successes in the battle for Bakhmut were visible. The recapture of the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka south of the city will bring Ukrainian troops closer to one of the Russian occupiers’ main supply routes. In addition, the Russian defense of Bakhmut was weakened after Russian airborne troops were relocated to the front in Zaporizhia, southern Ukraine. However, the Ukrainians lack ammunition for artillery and mortars. They cannot fall back on a fully functioning air force that intervenes in battles alongside the ground troops or, to a certain extent, flattens everything beforehand.
Nevertheless, many Ukrainian soldiers appear confident of victory, also supported by the support of Western states. The view that is often heard is that the Russian armed forces fight stupidly and burn out their own soldiers. In the Ukrainian army the term “flesh storm” is used contemptuously for this.
For the further battle for Bakhmut, the 22nd Brigade of Ukraine is training night shooting with a main battle tank near Kostiantynivka. The crew of the T-72 is briefed and fires two grenades a few minutes apart, which hit a hill opposite. The brigade was only reorganized about a year ago. The infantry and the staff were in Germany for training. They were trained at military training areas in Bavaria used by the US armed forces.
The sun is still shining, but soon the rain will soak the ground. Tanks also reach their limits in the mud. Lieutenant Colonel Vasyl’s face is dirty with sweat and dust. He follows the questions closely, but doesn’t want to reveal any security-related details. It is clear that the weather will have an impact. He says: “When autumn comes, the vegetation disappears. We are easier to spot and have to dig deeper.” What happens next? Wassyl dismisses it. “No predictions can be made here.”