Status: 24/09/2023, 12:03 p.m.
By: Christoph Gschoßmann
Russia mined on a large scale in Ukraine. Minesweepers report on their dangerous work - they have to clear the way for their own tanks.
Kyiv – Russia and Ukraine have been wearing each other out for months in Moscow's war of aggression on Kyiv. As in many modern wars, minefields are also part of the battlefields. A Ukrainian officer told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica about his experiences in a corridor south of Zaporizhzhia within the Suroviking line. This is a three-tier defense complex, erected by General Surovikin, the former head of the Russian Armed Forces.
Russians tie up three mines to destroy clearance machines
"On average, we find five mines per square meter," explains the Ukrainian officer, who does not want to be identified. Its mission is to create a gap for armored vehicles. But the minefield is a real death zone, littered with Russian "hamburgers" – tied together Tm-62 mines. A demining machine can withstand an explosion of a single mine, but not a detonation of three.
Surovikin gave the order in the fall of 2022 to fill the front with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, dig trenches and dig hundreds of tunnels and underground bunkers connected to each other – the Ukrainian officer calls them "anthills". The prepared area stretches over a 130-kilometer section stretching from Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region to Vreminvka in Donetsk. The deminers are exposed to mortal danger not only from the explosive devices, but also from Russian mortar fire. But at the end of August, Ukrainian assault units managed to break through the line, but the path between the mines was too narrow: the lined up tanks were quickly unable to maneuver and were destroyed by Russian artillery.
An explosion in the Ukraine war (symbolic photo). © IMAGO/Dmytro Smolienko
Success for the deminers: the breach becomes a corridor
In the meantime, however, the breach has become a corridor: almost ten kilometers long and a few meters wide, it leads from Robotyne to the east in the direction of the destroyed village of Verbove. The officer reports: "The opening of a safe corridor in the minefield belt, which is the first of the three Suroviking lines, is the most complicated part. We can only do this at night, we have to zigzag." One prerequisite is that the afternoon was sunny: "This is the only way for the metal of the mines to actually heat up to such an extent that it is visible in the infrared viewers. And when I say that we are advancing on a carpet of bombs, it is because the prairie lights up when you put on the visor as if the sun were on the ground."
On the day of the Ukrainian attack on Crimea, news arrives that for the first time a large number of vehicles are present beyond the third level of the line. At least two Storm Shadow cruise missiles escaped from the air defense system protecting the occupied peninsula and hit the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in the center of Sevastopol. According to rumors, for which there is no official confirmation, the admiral was killed at the head of the fleet. "And that's not all," say the leaders of the Kiev Air Force. Shortly after the explosions, the peninsula's internet network went out of control due to a massive cyberattack. Zelensky, who was in Canada, did not comment on Crimea or the breakthrough of Surovikin. However, he was sure that they would soon recapture Bakhmut on the Eastern Front "and two other cities whose names I will not name."
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It is difficult to estimate the actual extent of the area to the south. "The Ukrainian army has shown that it knows how to overcome the Suroviking barriers," Oleksiy Melnyk, a Kyiv-based military analyst, told La Repubblica. "But the picture to consider is broader. I doubt that a counteroffensive capable of advancing ten kilometers a day will pass through this corridor." The Russians will now concentrate their forces there, so I expect the Ukrainian generals to surprise them with an attack elsewhere."
Surovikin is not a homogeneous fortress, but as a jagged system consisting of obstacles and barriers built beyond the last strip of tunnels. "The strategic goal for us remains the same," explains the Ukrainian officer, "to recapture all the occupied territories up to the Sea of Azov, and for this it is crucial to capture Tokmak." The fortified citadel is in the hands of Putin's soldiers, and the corridor towards Verbowe could be used for encirclement. The officer calculates: "From Tokmak, we control the land supply routes to the Crimea. We hope to be there by the end of the year."
Moscow's ideology leads to problems on the battlefield: the officers are partly based on a template from Soviet times. (cgsc)