Front-line soldiers are in a state of hyper-vigilance as they get ready to reclaim the strategic southern city amid ongoing Russian shelling.
26 July 2022 • 8:33pm
Barman’s shift on the front-line outside of Mykolaiv ought to have ended hours ago.
The Ukrainian soldier, dressed in a camouflage ghillie suit and armed with an AK-47, has been holding his position for 24 hours.
Russian shells land in Liubomyrivka, north-east of Mykolaiv, three or four times a day. The summer heat is gruelling.
But shortages of soldiers and the risks of moving backwards and forwards leave the 31-year-old, known by his call sign, on the front-line for a day and a night.
It is under these exhausting conditions that Barman and his fellow soldiers from 63rd Brigade have been conducting operations to push Russia back, as they prepare for the counter-offensive in which Ukraine is expected to move in on Kherson, the first major city to fall into Russian hands.
“It’s very hard and the shelling is intense here,” Barman, 31, said.
“We fight against artillery. Artillery shells us and that’s it, that’s how we fight. They don’t approach to engage in close combat, they shoot the artillery.”
As a consequence of the sensitive nature of the operation in Mykolaiv, soldiers were limited in what details they could share with reporters.
In recent weeks, deliveries of Western-supplied long-range artillery have helped Ukrainian forces pick away at reclaiming territory in the southern Kherson region.
Earlier this week, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, pledged that his troops would retake the region by September, as he cited “step by step” advances in the southern region.
Ukrainian military officials said it was in part thanks to Western weapons that they had turned a corner in the southern counter-offensive.
Last week, Ukrainian forces targeted the crucial Antonivskyi bridge with 12 shells from the newly-arrived High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (Himars), a US-supplied long-range artillery weapon.
Kyiv’s forces have since been targeting river crossings in the region in an effort to stretch Russia’s supply lines.
Barman insisted his colleagues were able to “keep good defences” in the southern offensive, and said that they “push back when we can”.
“But the Russians are shelling anything they can reach,” he added. “Schools, civilian houses. They are relentless.”
Asked how long the southern counter-offensive, which Ukrainians claim is imminent, would last, Barman was confident in his country’s resolve. “We will win, it’s just a case of when,” he said.
“We want other nations to keep sending us weapons so that we finish this war sooner.”
All around the front line, shelling could be heard in the distance. It is, a paramedic known as Dog explained, a fact of daily life.
Speaking from a trench at the central communications hub where troops further forward are given their commands, the soldier explained how rockets constantly fly over, hitting everything from “big cities” to “schools, kindergartens, infrastructures and big buildings”.
Dog, 22, added that on the front-line there is no “free time” and that they are constantly “observing”, be it preparing weapons or listening to the radio. “You constantly walk around looking back so that you are not shelled,” he said.
“We try to stick out, stay hidden, and in case of incoming fire, we hide.”
It is in the trenches, which are framed by fields of sunflowers and wheat, that the troops seek shelter when the shelling starts.
Dog explained that when they run for cover they pray with bibles and religious icons.
“We jump to the trench and pray not to be hit. That’s our everyday life,” he said. He added that many of the soldiers had found religion since deploying to the front-line.
Meanwhile, the Conflict Intelligence Team has predicted renewed Russian attacks this week from Izyum towards Slavyansk and Barvinkove and on the Siversk-Bakhmut line in Donbas.
They have also said there has been a build-up of Russian troops in Crimea that they believe is either to reinforce Kherson, or to gain the initiative by putting in a spoiler attack on the hitherto fairly quiet Zaporizhia front.
The Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces continued to fortify their positions in Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts in preparations for Ukrainian counter-offensives.
Oleksandr Starukh, head of Zaporizhia Oblast Military Administration, said Russian forces are digging trenches on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) and hiding military equipment in residential neighbourhoods.
As for Dog and Barman, all they can think about is when the war will end and they can return to their families.
To do this, they reiterate that Ukraine needs more weapons.
“The more weapons we have the faster we end the war and go home,” he said.
“Until then we read prayers and wait for more decent weapons.”
Commenter Keith Jones:
“Ukraine needs now to target the bridges in the Crimea.”
Reply from Ivan Callanan:
“Not just yet. Wait until they have control of the Kherson region and then take it out, trapping the Orcs in Crimea!”
Kremtroll “Biscui Lan” :
“USA, against taxpayer will (when taxpayers have learned what has been done, and it’s not easy!), has shoveled billions at Ukraine, for many years. No accountability, so it could be >trillions.
American taxpayers beg you Brits to take over. Please. Please. If you do, we might find a couple of dim homeless to bang pots, to show appreciation.
Zelensky has the goods on the Bidens. That’s why American taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being shoveled at Z. Please, take over and fund.
Ukraine would fold in a minute, if the pipeline of American taxpayer money stopped flowing.”
Reply from Carpe Jugulum:
“How odd then that the public of every single democracy are in favour of helping Ukraine, even the German public. I appreciate it isn’t easy being despised Vlad, but get used to it.”
K. Bowyer replies to the kremtroll:
“You Brits’. So who are you comrade?”
Comment from Carpe Jugulum:
“Russia was the second largest arms exporter in the world, until now. Putin has succeeded in demonstrating that Russian weaponry is a generation behind.
Who is going to spend $millions on a Russian tank after seeing hundreds of them killed by $20,000 missiles? Or tens of millions of dollars on fighter aircraft that have spent the war on the ground ( apart from the $50million Russian Su34(M) that did take off and was promptly shot down by a Russian air defence unit in a rare ‘success’ ).
The weapons systems countries want now are NLAW, Javelin, HIMAR and Starstreak.
Russia’s arms sales are going to follow the Sukhoi Checkmate into oblivion.”