ERR in Ukraine: Reporting directly from front line in Luhansk Oblast

Anton Aleksejev in Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast. March 30, 2022.
Anton Aleksejev in Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast. March 30, 2022. Source: ERR

ERR correspondent and ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" reporter Anton Aleksejev and camera operator Kristjan Svirgsden visited the front line in Ukraine's Luhansk Oblast on Wednesday. According to a Ukrainian military spokesperson, Russian forces are attacking Ukraine brutally, in a way that is reminiscent of World War II tactics.

"This is Donbas, in Luhansk Oblast," Aleksejev said, reporting from a trench. "We can't say where exactly we are located, but as you can see, we are on the front line. This is where Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Shoigu has promised to concentrate all of his forces to allegedly liberate — but in reality occupy — the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

But Ukrainian forces have maintained their positions for more than a month already.

"The enemy hasn't advanced, and they won't succeed in doing so either," said Ukrainian soldier Anatoliy, according to whom Russian forces are using all of their heavy weapons — artillery, tanks, Grad missiles.

Fighting alongside experienced soldiers on the Ukrainian side are also those who only just took up arms on the first day of the current war.

"On February 24, when the war began, I was at the military commissariat at 7:30 in the morning already," recalled Volodymyr. "That is how I ended up here, via mobilization."

He said he wasn't afraid to come fight. "I had no such thoughts," he said. "I decided that my place is here."

How has the situation along that portion of the front changed over the past month?

"Prior to the war, the situation along our line wasn't particularly intense," Ukrainian Army soldier Vitaliy said. "We had mortars, drones, heavy machine guns and so on used against us. Since the war began, our and our neighboring positions are being hit by heavy weapons. That means artillery, tanks, large-caliber howitzers, Grad missiles and so on."

"They're using a lot of infantry, and they're attacking brutally," Nazar Ilnitsky, press officer of the 24th Mechanized Brigade, said, describing the enemy attacks. "This is reminiscent of World War II tactics, because human lives have no value in their eyes; they are just cannon fodder. They want to attack en masse. They just keep coming and coming. We destroy them, and they just bring in more soldiers. This is absolutely absurd."

"They don't want to fight anymore, because they've sustained a lot of losses," said Sergiy, a Ukrainian soldier. "They don't have the strength either for a major offensive or for battles. There are already few of them left. Just a little more and this "second strongest military in the world" is going to drop in the ratings."

Ukrainian troops don't want to talk about their own losses. They are, however, happy to discuss losses sustained by the enemy, and their motivation remains high.

"We're defending the entire world here right now — Europe — we're defending all of you," Volodymyr said. "And Sokyryany as well — that is where I live."

Ukrainian troops risk being surrounded in Donbas

Reporting remotely to ETV's "Terevisioon" morning program from Kostyantynivka on Thursday, Aleksejev said that Russian forces haven't managed to advance far beyond the control line in Donbas, however it is proving difficult for Ukrainian troops to regain control of already conquered territory.

"It depends on the exact settlement," he said, noting that it is difficult to tell in eastern Ukraine whether Russia has in fact directed more of its troops there. "For example, where we were yesterday, the Ukrainians held very strong positions, and it would clearly be very difficult for the Russians to break through them. Of course, Sergey Shoigu said that Donbas, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are the Russians' current target, and I believe that that is the case."

According to Aleksejev, Russian troops have not advanced far beyond the control line in Donbas.

"Where we were in Luhansk Oblast yesterday, the line has barely shifted," he explained. "That's why the soldiers were so proud that the enemy hasn't managed to break through their defense line. But the risk of being surrounded always remains. If we look at a map, it is clear to see that the Russians are doing everything they can to surround Ukrainian groups in the Donbas. Thus far they have been unsuccessful, but we'll see how that goes for them going forward."

According to Aleksejev, people in Ukraine are highly motivated, and the Ukrainian side is having no problem with finding enough troops. The problem, he said, is that these people need training.

"You can't take a civilian, hand them a Kalashnikov and send them off to the front," he said. "There are the Territorial Defense Forces, the National Guard, and the Army. The question is, how much arms aid Ukraine will get from the West. It is prohibited to publish data about this, and filming is prohibited as well. We don't know. We hope that everything that the West is talking about and that the Ukrainian government has confirmed receiving will reach the front."

It will be difficult for the Ukrainians to take back areas controlled by Russian forces in Donbas, as Russian troops have firmly established themselves there over the past eight years.

"Should Mariupol or Izyum fall — God forbid — then the Russians are going to start surrounding the entire Donbas region," Aleksejev said. "Zaporizhzhia Oblast and Kherson Oblast as well, which are pulling more Ukrainian forces in, meaning the Ukrainians can't focus all of their power on Donbas. They also have to defend Kyiv, Sumy and Kharkiv."

Journalists' work increasingly difficult

The filming of military activity is getting increasingly more difficult, Aleksejev said.

"Three days ago, a law went into effect which effectively bans all filming," he said. "The fact that we managed to visit the trenches and film anything there was thanks to the fact that the press officer was accompanying us, and now that is his responsibility, not ours."

According to the correspondent, it is very difficult to travel in the region.

"There is no gas here, there are a lot of checkpoints where documents are being checked, there is a curfew," he said when describing journalists' current work on the ground in Ukraine. "We have very little time each day in which we can go somewhere, film something and then get back to edit. Logistical problems are the main issues here, currently moreso than military problems."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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