raked one flank of the car, punching through the side bumper, puncturing a tire
and shattering a wing mirror and the car’s lights. Miraculously, Yura and his
passenger, Natasha, escaped unharmed.

“First the
sniper, then a machine gun,” Yura recounted. “I had to step on the gas and get
out of there fast.”

Part of
Ukraine’s enormous volunteer army support network, which gathers and delivers a
huge range of donated goods and equipment to soldiers, Yura and Natasha had become the
latest target of a Donetsk People’s Republic Sabotage and Reconnaissance Group.

The groups, operating well behind Ukrainian lines, are increasingly playing a
decisive factor in the mostly Russian-driven, partly partisan war raging with
renewed vigour in Ukraine’s east.

Twenty-eight Ukrainian
soldiers have been killed and 50 wounded since the night of Jan. 30, according to the
country’s military. Ukrainian medical sources say the true figure is likely to
be three times as high. 


“The shelling here is less frequent, but much more
accurate,” said Andrii “Black,” commander of the pro-Kyiv Dnipro battalion’s second company, as his
patrol slowed for a Ukrainian checkpoint outside the city of Karlivka, 20 kilometers from Donetsk airport.

“There are
Sabotage and
Reconnaissance Groups (SRGs) operating behind our lines,” he explained.

Right on
cue, shockwaves reverberated through the patrol vehicle. The checkpoint’s commander
gestured for the patrol to pull over. An enemy SRG was in the area, and heavy
howitzer shells were dropping on Ukrainian positions ahead.

agonising hours passed while the shells crept closer – each explosion louder
than the last, each tremor stronger, until finally the Dnipro battalion patrol chose
to withdraw in the fading light.

The threat
of attacks behind Ukrainian lines isn’t talked about by the military command,
but it’s swiftly becoming an everyday fact of life for those running the
gauntlet between forward operating bases and supply stations.


“Two weeks
ago one of our cars was shot up and the driver had to drive 17 kilometers without a tyre
to escape,” one member of a medical unit told the Kyiv Post, not wanting to be
named as he was not authorised to speak to press. “Since then
there have been three or four attacks a week.”

In an
apparent effort to address the problem, Ukraine has introduced a much
criticised authorisation system for travel in the Donbas area, requiring all
those seeking to move between separatist-held and Ukrainian territory to spend
several days applying and waiting for permission first.

But the
haphazard arrangement of checkpoints and a less than stringent attitude to
checks among some guards has allowed Kremlin-backed fighters to get in behind
army lines by posing as civilians.

infiltration has already dealt Ukraine’s defense of Debaltseve, a small city with a pre-war population of 25,000 and a strategic rail and road junction, a
devastating blow. The loss of Vuhlehirsk, a village some 10 kilometers west of
Debaltseve, puts pro-Russian artillery within firing range of the only supply
route to Ukraine’s forces there.


“Over the past few weeks this group of terrorists has
infiltrated (Vuhlehirsk) disguised as civilians and (we were) hit from the
rear,” Semen Semenchenko, commander of the pro-Kyiv Donbas battalion, wrote on
Facebook. “Artillery fire struck tanks at the positions of our
forces. There are enemy armored vehicles, sniper nests in people’s homes.”  

The situation in Debaltseve itself looked increasingly
difficult for Ukraine on the night of Feb. 1 with Ukrainian news outlet Novoe Vremya
reporting that Russian-backed separatists had reached city limits, causing
National Guard units to flee.

Kyiv Post editor Maxim Tucker can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @MaxRTucker

Editor’s Note: Where surnames have not been given the individual did not feel authorized to speak to press.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action. Content is independent of the financial donor.

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