In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Victor Tregubov – journalist, public figure, and captain of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), discusses Russian tactics at the front, the Ukrainian counter-offensive, use of western weapons in the recent Sevastopol attack, and the forthcoming liberation of Kherson.
Where are you serving at the moment? What is the situation like at the front?
I’m currently on a military base in Zhytomyr. However, my friends serve in different areas of the front, for example in Kherson, and the Donbas region, so I understand the situation across several areas.
Generally, I’d say there’s currently a stalemate on the front, before a new breakthrough from the Ukrainian side. That said, hostilities are on-going in certain areas. Things are hot right now in the Bahamut area where Russians are trying to advance without stopping to count their own losses.
Also, the Russians are trying to hit civilian rather than military targets, which somehow amounts to terrorist tactics. The Ukrainian side is fighting back, but on Russian military targets, particularly Russian ships in Sevastopol, Crimea.
So, it is not a peaceful stalemate but an aggressive one.
Is the Ukrainian army continuing its counteroffensive?
The counteroffensive has been underway for two months already and is liberating territory. The Ukrainian military is advancing 20-40 kilometers and then waiting until the stabilization of this line to ensure protection from enemy counterattacks.
So, the Ukrainian army is essentially stabilizing the front line ahead of moving further forward.
How have Russia’s tactics changed since summer? Are they still trying to advance?
The main change of tactic has involved attacking with long-range weapons against Ukrainian civilian targets. They’re trying to destroy Ukrainian energy and civilian infrastructure, which is something new for us. They’re also trying to destroy our energy infrastructure, but not very systematically. It’s a new challenge for the Ukrainian side to address and that’s what our army is working on now.
As things stand, the Russians can’t win on the battlefield, so they are attacking civilian infrastructure instead. These attacks are aimed at destabilizing the situation inside Ukraine. However, it will prove useless.
What are the soldiers’ needs at the front? Are you ready for winter?
The situation varies between units and regiments. My unit has been ready for this coming winter since the start of the war, but for many other soldiers, having enough warm clothes is a real problem now. I believe that the Ministry of Defense is doing everything it can to overcome this challenge. The other problem is the lack of heating following Russian attacks, which I think could be especially damaging for civilians.
Also, there is a need for various anti-aircraft defenses because Russia is being increasingly supplied with Iranian missiles and drones. For Ukrainian forces, it’s crucially important to protect civilian targets and infrastructure objects, because winter is coming. It’s a top priority.
The Ukrainian side needs aviation equipment, but that isn’t easy because that equipment needs to be supplied and maintained. However, we hope the Ukrainian army will also be able to access what it needs from its allies sooner or later.
What about the Russians? Do they have enough supplies in your opinion?
I suppose not because they don’t seem to be ready for anything after Vladimir Putin’s so-called partial mobilization. They are facing a disastrous situation with ammunition and it’s hard for them to find summer uniforms, let alone winter clothes.
However, that’s not a problem for Russian commanders because they just ignore public opinion. They don’t care that their soldiers will die from the cold. To their minds, there are enough human resources in the Russian army, so they don’t care about comfort or survival.
The Ukrainian side cannot afford such an attitude.
What is your projection for hostilities in the wintertime? Will it slow down or intensify?
Hostilities will slow down over winter because launching massive offensives doesn’t make sense. That said, we know that Russia made some advances in winter during the first stage of the war. In 2014, the battle in the east of Ukraine in Debaltsevo took place in winter. It was similar in 2016 in Avdiivka – I was there, and it was a harsh winter with snow and so on.
To advance in wintertime is not impossible – it’s just more complicated than during summer. I don’t expect anything huge. In my opinion, there will be advances from both sides but on a smaller scale.
How many have been killed and wounded in your unit?
That’s great! Are Russians suffering heavy losses?
Yes, the Russians are experiencing heavy losses right now. We’re breaking records because newly mobilized Russian soldiers have no experience and no military training. They are being thrown into the field without training, which is why the number killed is increasing as it is. On one particular day it reached 1,000, which is the result of a bad mobilization effort. It’s good for us and bad for them.
How long do you think this war will last?
No one can be sure, but it should end next year. I say that, first of all, because I’m not sure that Russia is ready for the long haul. Ukraine has been backed up by Western allies, while Russia is being backed by Iran, and Iran is not a reliable source of supply. They are not rich and they are not effective.
That’s why I think that, next year, the war will be over. Something will happen in the West or within Russia that will end this war. Russia doesn’t have enough resources.
Do you think Putin will use nuclear weapons against Ukraine?
I don’t think so because it would be a personal disaster for him – not only because of the Western response but because of the likely Eastern response. Putin is banking on support from China and India, but I don’t believe those countries would provide any support to Russia after a nuclear strike. A nuclear war is in neither of their interests.
Retaliatory strikes would come not only from the West but from the East as well. So, for those reasons, use of nuclear weapons is not in Putin’s interests.
Does the Ukrainian army have access to enough weaponry at the moment?
Of course, there can never be enough, but for now, as you can see, we are using what we have effectively against the Russian occupants. The Ukrainian army is using western weapons in both its main offensive and some special operations, particularly the Sevastopol attack.
However, Ukraine is asking for more weapons mainly to guard against further casualties among civilians.
How would you describe the morale of Ukrainian soldiers?
Morale is high. We are winning. What’s happening in Kherson is especially inspiring.
Do you think that the Ukrainian forces will liberate Kherson soon?
I suppose so. Berislav in the Kherson region is especially important. If Berislav were to be liberated and the Kherson dam controlled by the Ukrainian side, then any remaining Russians in Kherson wouldn’t survive long.