Velika Novosilka is the ideal place to get closer to God. Yuri, a 39-year-old Ukrainian soldier codenamed Sneg, says he prayed for the first time in his life in this town in eastern Ukraine besieged by Russian troops. He is convinced that it saved him from death. “I fell to the ground under enemy fire. Crouching, I looked at the sky and began to pray,” he says from his new duty station, a highway outpost on the southern front of Donetsk province, where some of the war’s most intense fighting is taking place: “That howitzer fell in front of me. And the explosion didn’t happen. Is it a miracle or not?
Yuri has decorated the wooden cabin where the soldiers at his outpost take refuge from the cold: He’s decorated it with Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox prints, along with a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary: “It doesn’t matter if they’re Buddhist Be it Muslims or Christians, they all believe in the same God, who saved me. What is happening in Velika Novosilka, and especially in its neighboring town of Vuhledar, is terrible, says Yuri. The chief of the Ukrainian armed forces said late last week that the bloodiest fighting of the war was taking place in the region and also in Donetsk, 30 kilometers further east, in Marinka.
The Ukrainian High Command has indicated that the attack on Vuhladar is of the same intensity as Bakhmut. This municipality and both Vuhledar and Velika Novosilka are closed to civilians, including journalists—officially because of the risk to their lives in urban fighting. The Russian offensive intensified to encircle Ukrainian positions in Donetsk 10 days earlier. Ukrainian and NATO intelligence services expect another offensive by the aggressor to begin in the coming days from Lugansk province, in an attempt to gain control of the entire Donbass region.
Each Russian attempt to advance into the Vuhledar area has ended with dozens of lifeless bodies and armored vehicles destroyed under Ukrainian accurate artillery, located more than 15 kilometers away, and infantry assaults. For every meter the aggressor advances in the Donetsk province, he achieves this with a high mortality rate among his ranks. “Russia follows only one strategy, sending waves of infantry to die, and no more,” says Igor, the commander of a three-tank squad of the Ukrainian 1st Armored Brigade, code-named Lishe. Lishe, 28, says the Russian death toll figures provided by the Ukrainian General Staff are not even close to reality. According to Kiev, more than 140,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion began in February 2022.
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There are more moderate estimates from NATO allies: Norwegian chief of staff Erik Kristofferson said in late January that Russian casualties — including wounded and missing — were 180,000, compared to 100,000 for Ukraine. According to the main academic studies on the subject, the percentage of deaths in relation to total casualties is between 10% and 33%, depending on the medical response and evacuation capability on the battlefield. However, Britain’s Ministry of Defense wrote in its February 12 piece on the Ukrainian War that the Ukrainian General Staff’s figures are “probably accurate”, i.e. had the Battle of Bakhmut and the Battle of Vuhladar been ongoing, Russia would have been suffering more than 800 daily casualties. four times more than last summer. According to data from the German secret services leaked weekly der spiegel Ukrainian casualties on 20 January would have doubled.
“There is no strategy, only cannon fodder”
“The Russian dead cannot even be counted, they remain on the battlefield uncared for, there are too many,” Lishe explains, “their soldiers have no training, their advancement typical of World War II” No strategy, nothing, just cannon fodder.
The words of this commander corresponded with reports from the Ukrainian and British intelligence services, but also from both Russian and American military analysis centres, on the invasion of Moscow at Vuhladar. The American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) last Monday described as “catastrophic” the virtual total elimination of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, which on paper is one of the most capable brigades in the Russian army. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry maintained that it was almost completely destroyed, along with about 150 armored vehicles and approximately 5,000 people. ISW verifies the information, citing Russian sources which indicate that 90% of the 155th Brigade’s platoons were made up of improperly prepared recruits.
The Gray Zone, a Russian military telegram channel of the Wagner Mercenary Company, assured on 13 February that it was difficult to imagine how bad the advance of the Russian army in Vuhladar had been: “Our troops do not have enough information, nor the most accurate Artillery support in front of the Ukrainian artillery ”.
According to experts consulted by EL PAÍS, the area where the Battle of Wuhldar is being fought is a plain of agricultural fields and coal mines, with some forest, an ideal location for an offensive with tanks. But the gentle hills that break up the monotony of the landscape are also the perfect conditions to hold off a military invasion. There is nothing on the horizon that would go unnoticed from miles away. From a hilltop, a few kilometers from Velika Novosilka, this newspaper was able to observe the maneuvers of a mechanized battalion to face a possible Russian outpost: Ukrainian soldiers armed with rifles and anti-tank rockets dominating the flanks. were preparing for. of the enemy supported by howitzer fire.
russia on the radio
Most of the stations to be tuned in the city of Konstantinopil are Russian. Those are radio frequencies emanating from the city of Donetsk 30 kilometers away, the provincial capital captured by pro-Russian separatists in 2014 and unilaterally annexed by the Kremlin in 2022. The proximity of the enemy to this town founded in the 18th century by the Crimean Greeks as it waves and the rapid movement of jeeps carrying Ukrainian troops.
Vuhledar is only 25 kms away. Soldiers from the 68th Separate Brigade of Hunters, a unit that was instrumental in the defeat of the 155th Russian Naval Infantry Brigade, load food into a grocery store in Kostianinopil. Anatoly and Ilya are two soldiers who have almost a year of fighting in Donetsk behind them. His relaxed manner of speaking, his looks and his combat uniform attest to his experience. Mick Ryan is an Australian major general and one of the most cited analysts of Ukraine. Ryan said on his social network last Tuesday that Russia has so far carried out only reconnaissance strikes in the Vuhledar region, possibly to weigh Ukraine’s defense forces. Anatoly denied this: “The enemy’s offensive has begun, we have already stopped three big waves this February.” rangers 68th Hunter Brigade He believes this is the strategy they will face in the coming months: “The Russians have more people, and if nothing else, they will keep sending them to the slaughterhouse because Vladimir Putin has said he wants to conquer the whole of Donbass by spring ” ,
“The Russian offensive consists of sending more and more soldiers to die, but they always keep coming,” confirmed Yaroslav Chepurnoi, a spokesman for the 79th Airborne Assault Brigade. His troops are located in the defense axis of Kostiantivka and Marinka. Cheparnoi says that before last November, Russian raids were usually with columns of 10 to 20 soldiers, but now these raids are accompanied by 40 foot soldiers. Chepurnoi warns against the risk of underestimating the enemy: “Until now, waves of troops arrived without following any strategy which we easily eliminated. But they are learning from our mistakes, they are testing us to study our weaknesses.”
According to Chepurnoi, the 79th Assault Brigade has detected a change in the Russian way of fighting. The first is that they make better use of the support of reconnaissance drones and Lancet bomb drones against artillery; The second change is that the Russians are expending less artillery, focusing primarily on the advancement of their infantry. A spokesman for the 79th Brigade says, “Depending on which unit they belong to and where they come from, they fight better or worse, but all Russians, even if we only have three men left, fight to the end Are.” Other Ukrainian military sources indicate to this newspaper that neither side on this front prefers to take soldiers captive, although officials do.
According to a commander of the 231st Fire Support Battalion, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, in the 1st Armored Brigade they also discovered that the offensive was firing less artillery. This soldier, who has been stationed in the Vuhledar area since last May, believes this is because the Russian offensive is more geographically spread and the enemy has likely recognized that such high and inefficient consumption of projectiles is unsustainable.
But if the current Russian offensive is at the cost of heavy casualties, then there will be a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The offensive’s defenses were strengthened on the Southern Front, especially on the Zaporizhia Front, which borders Donetsk and protects the conquered coast of the Sea of Azov. The military agreed to this report that to reverse the situation, the Ukrainian armed forces need much more support from abroad: more accurate and longer-range artillery—particularly NATO 155-mm cannons—, drones— Anti-aircraft weapons, drone bombs and above all, tanks.
“My tank is over 50 years old, twice my age,” Lishe says in front of his armored vehicle, a Soviet T-64. The tracks are clearly worn and the commander reports that the cannon has jammed five times and had to be withdrawn during defensive operations. Lishe claims that his squad single-handedly pushed back four Russian platoons at Chernihiv in northern Ukraine in the spring. When he can fight German Leopard tanks and get the best shooting accuracy from them, he says, he is convinced that the situation at the front will change.
In the first weeks of spring Western heavy tanks are about to be ready for battle, just as Russia is about to raise its flag at Bakhmut and Vuhladar.
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