“The field is littered with corpses. The Russians outnumber us – against ten of their soldiers there is one Ukrainian. But they lose many more people than us”: Ukrainian fighters from the front say.
Infantrymen and tankmen of the Ukrainian army train in the steppes outside Donetsk, just a few kilometers from the front line. The cold is piercing – the thermometer shows minus 17 degrees Celsius, an icy wind is blowing. Until a few days ago, the tank brigade was actively involved in the battles for Bakhmut, but they were given a few days of rest before returning to the battlefield again, it says “Deutsche Welle”.
“It’s hard in a bulletproof vest, I know, and the hands and feet are freezing,” a tank brigade officer tells his subordinates. “And now imagine how the boys feel in the frozen trenches, where you can’t light a fire in order not to give away your position. And you constantly have to reload the weapons.”
“Do victims not matter to them?”
Not all servicemen reveal their names, and not all agree to be photographed. The relatives of some of the people here are in the occupied territories. The families of others have no idea that their loved ones are at the front. Those serving in this tank brigade say that the ratio of forces in the area at the moment is roughly 10 to 1 – ten Russian soldiers are opposed by one Ukrainian. In this section of the front, the Ukrainian units encountered fighters from the “Wagner” group, which replenished its ranks with prisoners sent to fight at the front.
Oleg, one of the commanders, says that in the battles for Bakhmut and Soledar, the positions of the warring parties are so close that even the instructions of the commanders of the opposing side can be heard. The 40-year-old man is visibly tired, just like the others. And Igor commented that “the Ukrainian military is fighting at the edge of human capabilities” while the fire and infantry attacks against them do not stop – both day and night.
Another soldier tells how the Russians came in waves in small groups of 10-15 people – right next to the Ukrainian positions in the trenches, directly under their fire: “We shoot, they die. There are mountains of corpses in the field. Then the new group comes. They they do not even help their wounded, but continue against us.”
“We also lose people, but their losses are many times greater. Doesn’t that matter to anyone,” one of the Ukrainian infantrymen asks rhetorically.
Soviet armor does not withstand “modern calibers”
The ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive and liberation of the occupied territories is possible with more equipment and weapons, preferably non-Soviet, tank brigade commanders told DV. Old Soviet T-72 tanks that need to be repaired are lined up in the open in the middle of the field under the trees. Tool chests and generators are placed on the ground. There is also a crane truck nearby that is removing the engine of one of the T-72 tanks. According to the story of the engineer from the Andrei brigade, the engine in question stopped right during the battle, but “the mechanic miraculously started it again and the crew managed to save themselves”.
The old damaged engine was replaced with another working one. “We still have spare parts in stock,” says Andrei. “But some of them are in short supply. Then we disassemble our damaged or captured Russian tanks,” he further explains.
Andrey believes that the Ukrainian army should abandon its Soviet-era tank heritage. He clarifies that the armor of these tanks cannot withstand “modern calibres” to protect the crew. Konstantin, deputy commander of the brigade’s repair division, is of the same opinion. According to him, Ukraine needs weapons and equipment from abroad: “We can defeat them only with technology.”
Waiting for the German “Leopard”
Tank battalion commanders tell DV that their subordinates would prefer to receive the new Western tanks as quickly as possible. “‘Leopard’ is what we need now. They have high-precision targeting, night vision devices, work in all weather conditions. And most importantly, the Russians are afraid of them,” says Konstantin.
Tank brigade mechanic Sergey, who is over 50 years old, welds a radiator under the open sky. He has been serving in the army since 2014. He is also ready to repair the new Western military equipment that his country hopes to receive: “All the equipment is the same. There is no big difference in how the mechanisms and engines work. The most important thing is that I can make everything from nothing. “
The fighting near Bakhmut and Soledar became more and more fierce, and the engineers of the tank battalion could not always afford to sleep. “This war is terrible… We must win to stay free,” says Igor in farewell.