Ukrainian soldiers portray the Eastern Front

Bakhmut, Ukraine (AP) — Burnt forests and cities burned down. A colleague with amputated limbs. Bombardment is relentless, and the only option is to lie in the trench, wait and pray.

Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front line of Donbus region in eastern Ukraine — Where Russia is making a fierce attack — Describes life during a tough attrition war as an apocalyptic.

In an interview with the Associated Press, some complained about the chaotic organization, escape, and mental health issues caused by the relentless bombardment.Others talked about high morale, the heroism of their colleagues, and their commitment to keep fighting, even as better-equipped Russians. Control more of the battle zone..

Lieutenant Volodimir Nazarenko, 30, the Deputy Commander of the Svoboda Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine, Withdrawal from Sieviero Donetsk Under orders from military leaders. During a month of combat, he said Russian tanks wiped out potential defensive positions and turned a city with a prewar population of 101,000 into a “burnt desert.”

“They bombarded us every day. I don’t want to lie about it, but these were barrages of ammunition in every building,” Nazarenko said.

At that time, Sieviero Donetsk was one of the two major cities under Ukrainian control in Luhansk Oblast, which pro-Russian separatists declared an unapproved republic eight years ago. By the time the withdrawal order came on June 24, the Ukrainians were surrounded by three sides, equipped with protection from chemical plants and protected civilians.

“If there was a hell somewhere on Earth, it was in Severodonetsk,” said Nazarenko battalion soldier Artem Ruban, who is relatively safe in Bakumut, 64 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of the occupied city. Said from the place. “The inner strength of our boys allowed them to hold the city until the last moment.”

“They weren’t the human condition they had to fight. It’s hard to explain this to you here, how they feel now, or how they were there.” Luban blinked in the sunlight and said. there. No matter what, the challenge was to destroy the enemy. “

Nazarenko, who fought in Kieu and elsewhere in the east after Russia invaded Ukraine, sees Ukraine’s operations in Sieviero Donetsk as a “victory” despite the consequences. He said defenders were able to stall Russia’s progress much longer than expected, depleting Russia’s resources and limiting casualties.

“Their troops suffered enormous losses and the potential for their attacks was wiped out,” he said.

Both the lieutenant and the soldiers under his command expressed confidence that Ukraine would regain all of the occupied territories and defeat Russia. They claimed to remain morale. Other soldiers shared more pessimistic explanations, claiming anonymity and using only names to discuss their experiences, as most had no combat experience prior to the invasion.

Oleksiy, a member of the Ukrainian army who began the fight against Moscow-backed separatists in 2016, had just returned head-on with a heavy drag. He said he was injured on the battlefield in Zolote, a town that was also occupied by Russians.

“On TV, they show beautiful pictures of the front lines, solidarity, and the army, but the reality is very different,” he said. Delivery of more western weapons It will change the course of the war.

His battalion began to run out of ammunition within a few weeks, Olexi said. At some point, relentless bombardment prevented soldiers from standing up in trenches, he said.

Senior White House Chief of Staff last month had 100 to 200 Ukrainian troops Die every day, But the country does not provide the total number of killed in action. Oleksiy claimed that his troops lost 150 people in the first three days of the battle, many of them due to bleeding.

He said the injured soldiers were evacuated only at night because of the relentless bombardment, and sometimes they had to wait up to two days.

“The commander doesn’t care if you’re psychologically broken. If your heart is functioning, you have to put it back if you have arms and legs,” he added. ..

Maria, a 41-year-old platoon leader who joined the Ukrainian army in 2018 after working as a lawyer and giving birth to her daughter, the level of danger and discomfort can vary greatly depending on the location of the unit and access to the supply line. I explained that there is.

The forefront that has existed since then Conflict with pro-Russian separatists The location that began in 2014 is more static and predictable, but she said the location that became the battlefield as Russia sent troops into the invasion was “another world.”

Maria, who refused to share her name for security reasons, said her husband is currently fighting in such a “hotspot.” She nostalgicly worries about her loved ones, which causes pain, but her subordinates keep their spirits high, she said.

“We are descendants of the Cossacks. We are free and brave. It is in our blood,” she said.

Two other soldiers interviewed by AP, a former salaryman from Kieu who had no previous combat experience, said they were sent to the eastern front as soon as they completed their first training. They observed “terrible organizations” and “illogical decisions” and said that many in their battalion refused to fight.

One of the soldiers said he smoked marijuana every day. “Otherwise I’m crazy and throw it away. That’s the only way I can deal with it,” he said.

A 28-year-old former teacher in Slovyansk said he “did not imagine” fighting for his country, explaining that the Ukrainian battlefield is a completely different life, not just high and low values ​​and emotions. Did.

“There is joy and sadness. Everything is intertwined,” he said.

Friendship with his colleagues provides a bright place. However, he also saw his fellow soldiers succumbing to extreme fatigue, both physically and mentally, showing symptoms of PTSD.

“It’s hard to live under constant stress, sleep deprivation, and malnutrition. To see all those fears with your own eyes — dead, torn limbs. Someone’s mind can endure it. Is low, “he said.

Still, he also claimed that there was still a motive to protect their country.

“We’re clenching our teeth, enduring and ready to fight, no matter how hard or difficult it may be,” he said from a fishing shop that had been converted into a military distribution hub. “Who would protect my home and my family if not me?”

The center of the city of Slovyansk provides equipment and supplies to the local army and provides soldiers with a place to go during a short rest from physical setbacks and fear of combat.

When the war began, 43-year-old dance choreographer Tetiana Kimion founded the center. According to her, all types of soldiers pass through, from skilled special forces and war-strengthened veterans to recently registered civilians to fighter-turned soldiers.

“It can be like this. He may come for the first time, laugh loudly, and even be shy. The next time he comes, there will be emptiness in his eyes,” Kimion said. rice field.

Behind her sits a group of young Ukrainian soldiers spinning from the front, sharing jokes and pizza. You can hear the sound of a cannon a few miles away.

“Most of the time they want something better. Yes, sometimes they get a little sad, but we want to raise their spirit here as well,” Kimion said.

On Sunday, Russian troops occupied the last Ukrainian fortress in Luhansk Oblast and stepped up rocket strikes to Donetsk, where the center is located.


Valerii Rezik contributed to this story.


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