Status: 24.09.2023, 10:49 a.m.
Final instructions during a night shooting exercise in front of a T-72 tank: The soldiers of Ukraine must be able to defend themselves. © Oliver Weiken/dpa
Ukrainian soldiers have to fight hard for every square meter of land. Russia has more materiel and often deploys more soldiers. Precise preparation for the attack is essential for survival.
Kostyantynivka - For the advance of Ukrainian soldiers in the reconquest of occupied territories, every step must be right. The 3rd Assault Brigade of Ukraine is fighting at the front line.
"When we defend our position, we are 50 to 60 meters away from the opponent. When we attack, we look the enemy in the eye," says Ivan, 26. He came with his comrade Roman (24) to Kostyantynivka, about 20 kilometers from embattled Bakhmut.
Ivan (26) and Roman (24, r) are fighting for Ukraine at the front line. © Oliver Weiken/dpa
The explosions of the fighting can only be heard here as a dark rumble, almost like a distant thunderstorm. Roman and Ivan, two young guys with full beards, are assigned by the military for the interview and, as if shot from a pistol, report on the pitfalls and tricks of firefighting.
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 eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk - overcoming minefields and anti-tank barriers and breaking through enemy positions.
Sandbox becomes a battle zone
Before the attack, there were precise discussions: each step was explained by the company commander and the "spit". Right down to landscape details, the combat area will be recreated at the sandbox. Then the tasks would be assigned. Some still prayed, says Roman.
With the beginning of the war, he himself relied on a tattoo on the back of his neck, from which he hoped for protection: angel wings held by a cross in the shape of a sword. Then be packed for the fight. Storm baggage. You tend to take more than necessary, but you can still throw it off.
Some soldiers are devoutly religious. Roman therefore had this tattoo done at the beginning of the war as protection. © Oliver Weiken/dpa
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The Russian opponents should not be underestimated, "they also learn," says Roman. The enemy has very well-equipped units "that don't give up until you shoot them." With their superior artillery, they made life extremely difficult for the Ukrainian foot soldiers, who have to work their way through mined terrain in wooded areas and urban warfare.
A lot happened before the assault
Other men, such as Yevhen (55), make the precision of the military gears possible in the first place. The cozy-looking captain of the sea dog type leads squads of artillery reconnaissance officers and, during a break in the small town of Kramatorsk, keeps looking at his mobile phone to see if he is challenged.
His soldiers identify Russian guns, hidden tanks or soldiers in their positions in the area south of Bakhmut and give their positions for shelling by their own artillery.
The enemy is doing everything possible to hinder the reconnaissance, as the officer says. But at dusk - when the light is already bad, but the night vision devices do not yet provide a clear picture - 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, drones are being used. The view extends so far beyond the field of vision.
"My job is to monitor the combat space holistically," says Yevhen. The three methods of observation are his "sensors". He himself moves in an inconspicuous car along the front area, 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're better with precision shots, but with the opponent it's the sheer mass of people. And they are blinded by propaganda," he is convinced. "We watched Russian officers force their people into the fire, even though the situation was hopeless and they could have surrendered."
With joystick and computer - the drone operators
A VW bus or a flatbed truck is enough to make a drone squad unobtrusively mobile. In a matter of minutes, three servicemen set up a Leleka drone and the helm station on the outskirts of the city of Kramatorsk. Two of them have basic military training.
"At close range, we fly via joystick, and the distance is controlled by the computer," says Volodomyr (31), their officer. He leads a drone squad of the 56th Ukrainian brigade. A map and the position of the drone can be seen on the screens.
A Ukrainian soldier controls a Leleka drone. The drone can fly for up to an hour and a half, covering more than 80 kilometers. © Oliver Weiken/dpa
Their camera image is 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 an hour and a half, covering more than 80 kilometers. Their electric motors are quiet, and yet Russian units can technically identify the aircraft as soon as it takes off. Many drones are shot down, the soldiers say. After 100 flights, the small aircraft has to be overhauled.
Ukrainian troops are advancing
Most recently, the British Ministry of Defense said that Ukraine's successes in the battle for Bakhmut were visible. The recapture of the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, south of the city, brings Ukrainian troops closer to one of the main supply routes of the Russian occupiers. In addition, the Russian defense of Bakhmut was weakened after Russian airborne troops were transferred to the front in Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine.
However, the Ukrainians lack ammunition for artillery and mortars. They cannot fall back on a comprehensively functioning air force that intervenes in battles alongside the ground troops or, to a certain extent, flattens everything beforehand.
Nevertheless, many Ukrainian soldiers are confident of victory, also supported by the support of Western states. One often hears the view that the Russian armed forces are fighting stupidly and burning their own soldiers. In the Ukrainian army, the term "meat storm" is used contemptuously for this.
The armored troops are already thinking about the end of summer
For the further battle for Bakhmut, the 22nd Brigade of Ukraine is training night shooting with a main battle tank near Kostyantynivka. The crew of the T-72 is instructed and fires two shells at intervals of a few minutes, which hit a hill opposite.
The brigade was reconstituted only about a year ago. Infantry, as well as the staff, were in Germany for training. They were trained on military training areas in Bavaria used by the US armed forces. The sun is still shining, soon the rain will soak the ground. Even tanks in the mud reach their limits.
The face of Lieutenant Colonel Vasyl (49) is dirty with sweat and dust. He follows the questions wide awake, but does not want to reveal any security-relevant details. It is clear that the weather will have an effect. He says: "When autumn comes, the vegetation disappears. We're easier to spot and need to dig deeper." What's next? Vasyl dismisses the idea. "No forecasts can be made here." dpa