The occupants move directly into the barrage from Ukrainian trenches
One of the AFU tank brigades, which took part in the battles near Bakhmut and Soledar, told Deutsche Welle about the situation on the front lines.
Donetsk steppe. A 17-degree frost and a strong piercing wind. A few kilometers away is the front line, fighting for Bakhmut and Soledar. Infantrymen and tankers from one of the AFU tank brigades are training in the middle of the field. A few days ago, they were withdrawn from the fighting near Bakhmut for a short rest and replenishment. To reach the tank crews, they have to walk several kilometers off-road – for safety reasons.
“Is it hardto move with a bulletproof vest on? Are your hands and feet cold? Tank Brigade officer Ihor asks on the approach to the battalion’s location. – And now imagine how the guys feel in frozen trenches, where one can’t even set a fireplace not to uncover the positions. And they have to load ammunition all the time!
No one counts losses in RF
Not all the military personnel name themselves, not all of them want to take photos. Some of them have relatives in the occupied territories and the families of others do not know that they are at the front. Infantrymen and tank crews talk to Deutsche Welle during a short break between firing ranges and tell about the battles near Bakhmut and Soledar.
Tank Brigade officers observe that the ratio of forces in the area is currently about ten Russian soldiers to one Ukrainian. In this section of the front, the AFU deals with the Russian PMC Wagner, which attracts prisoners to its ranks.
Near Bakhmut and Soledar, the positions are very close, says one of the brigade commanders, Oleh: “There are close battles. So close that we can even hear their commanders giving orders. Ihor, an infantryman, is just over 40 years old. He is tired, just like the other soldiers. Ihor says that “the Ukrainian military is fighting on the brink of human ability,” because “there is no chance to sleep”. The shelling never stops, neither do the infantry attacks.
Another Ihor – an officer – tells us that small groups of 10-15 people are coming in “waves” towards Ukrainian positions – right into the barrage from Ukrainian trenches. “We shoot, they die. There are lots of dead bodies in the field. Then a new group comes. They don’t even help their wounded, they keep coming toward us,” he describes his experience at the front.
“We’re losing people… But I don’t understand… They suffer huge losses. Doesn’t anyone there care about that?” Infantryman Ihor wonders. His comrade Dmytro says that “it’s hard to bear it all.” According to him, “there is no choice.” “It was our decision to go to the front. I want and must protect my country, my family, so that we have a future,” he adds.
Soviet armor does not stand “modern calibers”
Further counteroffensive and liberation of the occupied territories of Ukraine is possible with more equipment, weapons – preferably of non-Soviet design, tank brigade commanders believe.
Brigade engineers show Soviet T-72 tanks, which they have to repair after battles. The military have set up their repair shop in the field under the trees. Toolboxes and generators are on the ground. A truck with a crane is working nearby, pulling the engine out of one of the T-72s. Andrei, an engineer of the tank brigade, says that during the battle the engine died, but “by some miracle the mechanic started it up again and the crew could escape”: “You see this through hole in the engine. It can’t be repaired.” The mechanics replace the old damaged engine with a new one. “New” is conditional. All parts for the T-72 are made in the Russian Federation, and Ukraine has not been buying them for a long time. “We still have parts in stock. But some things are in short supply. Then we dismantle our damaged or captured Russian tanks,” Andrei explains.
The mechanic believes the Ukrainian army has to give up the “Soviet tank heritage” – the machinery of Soviet production. After all, its armor, he says, cannot withstand “modern calibers,” so it cannot protect the crew. As Konstantyn, deputy commander of one of the brigade’s repair units, adds, Ukraine needs foreign-made weapons and equipment to have a greater advantage at the front: “We can defeat them (the Russian army. – Ed.) only with technology”.
Waiting for Leopard tanks
Tank battalion commanders say their subordinates would prefer to receive new tanks as soon as possible because “they want to complete the de-occupation of Ukrainian territory as soon as possible.” The brigade discusses the capabilities of German Leopard tanks. Germany negotiates deliveries to Ukraine, as well as the German Marder BMPs and American Bradley tanks promised by Western partners. “We need Leopard now. High-accuracy sights, night vision devices, can work in all weather conditions. And most importantly, the “Russians” are afraid of Leopards,” officer Konstantyn believes. The tankers add that “they will know exactly what they can do with Leopards when they see them, receive training and test them”.
The tank brigade mechanic Serhiy is over 50 years old. He has been in the AFU since 2014. He has fingers damaged by tools; one hand is wounded. Anyway, the AFU needs Western equipment, preferably with spare parts and “repair logistics,” he says. Serhiy is ready to repair them, too: “All equipment is the same. There is no big difference in the operation of mechanisms and engines. The main thing is that I know how to make everything out of nothing!”
Serhiy and his comrades received several tanks, BMPs and trucks to repair. Everything had to be done “yesterday,” because the fighting near Bakhmut and Soledar was getting fiercer. Tank battalion engineers don’t always sleep either. They say they “must withstand it.” “This war is terrible … We have to win to stay free,” officer Ihor says goodbye.