With crossfire of Ukrainian howitzers and Russian rockets blaring overhead, leader Oleksander said, “If they get any closer, our guns will be ineffective.” His own self-propelled artillery exploded in the snowfall, shaking off flakes into a log-covered bunker. His troops have been living there since his December, with smoke drifting from the spent artillery shells he uses as his chimney.
“We still have them in custody today, and it’s very dynamic,” said an officer with the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, who the Washington Post identifies by only his first name to ensure his safety. Oleksander said, “Change in a day.”
But even if the Russians advanced, they wouldn’t get far, he said. was
Across this fluid frontline, Ukrainians brace for the possibility that Russia will continue its creeping advance. This is a war of feet, not distance, and nowhere is that more evident than in the winter countryside outside Bakhmut, which became the epicenter of Russia’s attempt to regain momentum in her invasion a year ago.
The Ukrainian counterattack is likely to be limited, according to regional commanders. The battle is supposed to be of more symbolic value than strategic value, according to military experts, even if Ukrainian forces give up their ferocious defense of Bakhmut.
Rather, Russia is likely to push Ukrainians back into established positions they are preparing around neighboring communities with ongoing territorial disputes, such as Chasiv Yar, Kramatorsk and Kostiantinivka.
It has happened before. After a weeks-long assault on the city of Lischensk, just on the border of the Luhansk region, last summer, Russian forces reached the west he reached as far as Lyman, Donetsk, 36 miles away. But they lost Lyman to a Ukrainian counterattack last fall. The next major target in Moscow’s plan to conquer all of southeastern Ukraine, Bakhmut, 37 miles west of Lyschansk, is still not under Russian control after months of fighting.
Soldiers here hope the same tough move will continue with Russia throwing little-trained conscripts into new Ukrainian defensive positions just as they are in the bloody streets of Bakhmut. There is
“They will send 20 people at a time and we will stop them,” said Rostyslav, commander of two artillery positions in the area. “Then more specialized Wagner forces follow,” he said, referring to the mercenaries who led many of the attacks.
Behind him, two Soviet-era 2S1 Gvozdika guns (the name means “carnation”) rolled along the ridge. Guns were born long before most of the men who operate them.”Twenty years ago,” said 24-year-old Rostyslav.
The 128th Brigade was brought from Zaporizhia in December to help block Bakhmut’s lines.
The unit conducts fire drills on the lines around Bahmut and on the main M03 highway, the main route in the region. The 128th covers any fallbacks along the road for contingencies that the fighters don’t like. While awaiting the delivery of new ammunition, they began storing artillery ammunition.
“They sent us because we are the best,” said the sergeant, known by his radio callsign “Al-Kut.” “You can hold them, but you need ammunition and weapons.”
The battle for Bakhmut has become a rallying cry for Ukraine and a state of emergency for Russia as each side gears up for the massive offensive expected to start the war’s second year. .
Moscow is desperate for a symbolic victory to reverse months of humiliating defeats during Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kharkov and Kherson. Targeted small villages to the north to besiege the city.
Wagner’s fighters captured the nearby salt-mining town of Soleder in January, causing the 128th to “slip a little to the side,” Rostyslav admitted.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians, much like the hardliners who refused to abandon the Azokhstan steelworks in Mariupol in the weeks prior to Russia’s occupation of the city of Mariupol in May, have taken Bakhmut’s sloppy defense of Bakhmut into another modern era. is welcomed as the Thermopylae of
The latest battle has inspired memes, cheers (“Bahmut is holding on!”), and viral pop anthems (“Bahmut’s stronghold, all our prayers are here”). stand.
Despite the frenzy, soldiers and civilians above and below the front line are ready for the front to shift again.
At a field hospital west of the city, doctors said they were already preparing a contingency plan for relocation, even as they dealt with a surge in fighting casualties in Bakhmut.
“His leg is torn off,” a methodical cry went up as soldiers slammed a gurney through the front door of what was once the village infirmary.
“Here we are,” said doctor Oleg Tokarchik, walking back into the small operating room.
Another wounded soldier was being treated for a shoulder wound while a team of doctors and nurses rushed to stabilize a massive shrapnel wound that tore through his femur and destroyed most of his flesh. .
“We were just retreating when they hit us,” said Oreksi, 40, a fighter who came under fire just outside Bakmut.
He sent a message to his parents. It was snowing, but it stopped. ”
Many of the people posted in this hottest hot zone have lied to their families. His Tokarchyk, a civilian pediatric orthopedic surgeon, tells his wife that he works in a hospital far from the front lines.
“If it gets any more dangerous here, I’ll have to leave,” he said.
They’ve already identified a spot a little further out with good road access. Setting up a new site takes 2-3 days.
Along the same trail, some of the larger commercial farms are making their own moves. Siversk Agro cleared its grain processing facility on Sunday, according to a lone worker guarding the now-empty warehouse.
And as we approached the advancing front lines, four huge harvesting combines slowly pulled away from Bakmut Aggro’s machine yard as artillery fire echoed across the rolling hillside. An unexploded rocket was embedded in the stalks of a nearby sunflower field.
The company, which grows more than 14,000 acres of corn, wheat and sunflowers, has not commented on why it is leaving the area or on future plans. “We’ve brought out the equipment, but our job is the land,” said an employee who declined to give his name.
Priest Marko Fedak, who has endured a blown out church window and the evacuation of all but five regular church-goers from his village Zvanivka, is finally attempting his own escape, at least for now. increase.
“I’d like to come back to do Easter Mass here,” said Fedak, who had picked up a piece of wood that had been the tenth station of the cross the day before it was blown up by an artillery shell. “If it’s still not safe here, I already have the paperwork ready to become a military chaplain,” he said.
Residents here know that the front is in flux. Profits for either side may not last long. For months, Fedak was blocked from driving north by the Russians, but that route was opened after Ukraine reclaimed some areas in October.
Kostiantinivka, one of the cities to come under greater artillery fire as Russian forces nibbled westward, was one of three water lines when the Russians occupied territory near Vila Hora. lost. But after Ukrainian forces liberated the area over Sloviansk, they took back what came from the north.
The ups and downs are a tough call for citizens frightened by the current pitch of artillery fire, but they hope the situation will improve. But I’m also afraid to leave home,” Fedak said of a family in his parish.
Now may be the time to make a decision. The Russians are slowly approaching him, less than a mile from their home, he said.