The Russians are not as lousy fighters as Western media has tended to portray them, said two Ukrainian soldiers recently back from the front lines on a resupply mission in Kyiv.
“It's not true that [the Russians] fight badly,” they told Kyiv Post, under the condition of anonymity. “They fight well - it all depends on the unit and the weapons they have… Some of the Wagner fighters have such advanced weapons that I have never seen them before, even in pictures.”
Fighting around Bakhmut and Kreminna has scaled down in intensity, the soldiers reported, while Russian offensives continue to ramp up in the area around Vuhledar.
With a government-imposed ban on all media reporting from the front lines, Kyiv Post interviewed two Ukrainian Armed Forces servicemen who were fighting in the Donetsk sector, near Lyman, whose company is temporarily in Kyiv to be equipped and will soon return to battle. The soldiers reported a decrease in the intensity of Russian attacks and an improvement in the equipment of the Russian army with Chinese devices.
Hampered on their own end by dwindling ammunition and subpar equipment - “We ran around the landing zone in fur coats, and the guys from Lviv were laughing at us,” they recalled - the soldiers took a moment to discuss the changing tactics of the Russian military command, the generous deeds but sometimes treacherous relations with civilians behind enemy lines, and the horrors of war in general.
“It's always hard at the front,” the soldiers said. “You get used to eating around the corpses of Russians. They are still lying there. The hardest thing is when we drag our guys back in the evening dead, when the head and spine are separated. That's the hardest thing.”
Has the intensity of Russian attacks decreased?
It depends on where we’re talking about. Near Vuhledar, the attacks are still going on, but near Kreminna, it's quieter, and we even recaptured a village there that the Russians had taken. Near Bakhmut, it has become easier. The Russians were sitting there at a distance of 30 meters.
Can you tell us about the Russians' tactics?
Their tactics are changing. They are learning. A couple of months ago, they tried infantry, now they use more equipment, and in the summer, they destroyed everything with artillery; apparently, there is a shortage of shells. Now, if there is fighting in the city or in the forest and there is a place to hide, the Russians use infantry.
Who is fighting from the Russian side, the regular army or PWC Wagner?
There are Russian army units and Wagner fighters, who are different from the army.
Is it apparent that they are prisoners?
The Wagner fighters are different. What I saw - at first, I thought it was surreal - they were wearing black jumpsuits just like Ninja Turtles, with two crossed RPGs behind them. There are not only convicts there. There are also professional soldiers to solve particular tasks. However, even these fighters all want to surrender and live. Some of the Wagner fighters have such advanced weapons that I have never seen them before, even in pictures.
Nearby, the unit grabbed a couple of Wagner’s men. They say they are all tattooed.
Did you take prisoners yourself? Did you ask them anything?
Yes, we did. We ask them: “Why did you come? Who invited you?” The same as they are asking us. Usually they respond that it is all about the money. They'll say whatever you want, but I didn't see any great heroism there.
The difference between Ukrainians and the Russians is that we can decide how we will fight as a platoon, while the Russians follow orders from above and try to fulfill them. Even if there are already dead bodies, they don't care. They can use equipment sparingly, but they see no shortage of people.
And it's not true that they fight badly. They fight well - it all depends on the unit and the weapons they have.
Where did you serve before?
We were not in the army before the full-scale war started. On February 26, we joined the Kyiv Territorial Defense along with our entire neighborhood. We took part in the battles near Kyiv, near Pushcha Voditsa, and in the area around the Hostomel airport. We had two Maxim machine guns, one of which did not fire, for the whole battalion [about 1000 soldiers], and we had one Degtyarev machine gun [circa 1937] for the unit [about 100 soldiers].
Then we were transferred to the army. In our brigade, we have grandfathers in their 50s, and the rest of the "Paralympians," as we call them, all of them of limited fitness, practically falling over from a heart attack even at the beginning of an offensive.
Also, to be honest, I don't understand why children are being sent to the front at the age of 18. They can't handle it. They may be able to carry out an attack, but it's hard for them to wait around and be patient.
How many hours do you spend on the frontline?
We may not leave the position for more than a day. For example, there was a counter-offensive on Lyman, Donetsk region. We captured two villages, and stood as long as we could, pushing the Russians back six kilometers from the village to Kreminna, Luhansk region.
What was the hardest part?
I don't even know. It's always hard at the front. You get used to eating around the corpses of Russians. They are still lying there. The hardest thing is when we drag our guys back in the evening dead, when the head and spine are separated - that's the hardest thing.
Do you have many killed and wounded?
Our losses are a little over 30 percent, which is not that much, but it varies. For example, a battalion from Lviv - the guys who fought next to us, good guys, smart - well, 40 percent of them are left. We were just lucky because if they hadn't helped us in the last battle to take the wounded from the battlefield, we would have had the same number of fatalities.
What about supplies of food, and uniforms?
We were well-fed, but uniforms were the main problem. We ran around the landing zone in fur coats, and these guys from Lviv were laughing at us. There, on the positions, you either catch fire or get caught on something and tear it or get it dirty. We don't look any better than the Russians - everyone there is like a homeless person.
Do you think the war will last long?
Yes, but we will win anyway. We need weapons. First of all, artillery and ammunition. Tanks are secondary. We lack armored vehicles.
There was a situation when we were storming a village, and a local man came running, shouting that his 15-year-old son had been wounded. The guys threw the boy into a Zhiguli (an old Soviet car). We only had that one Zhiguli, drove along the evacuation road, brought the boy to the hospital, and on the way back, we hit a Russian mine. My friend and my platoon commander, both 24 years old, were killed. They saved this boy at the cost of their own lives, and then his father spoke on Russian television about the atrocities committed by Ukrainian soldiers.
Do the locals support the Russians?
It happens. You have to be careful all the time. Once, we captured a Russian subversive group from the locals, where the group's commander was a 15-year-old girl, and they killed many of our guys. But some locals support us, who give their last supplies. There was an old lady there. Two of her sons were killed by Russians in the war. She brought us borsch every day. We worry if she is okay, because that territory is now under Russian occupation.
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