ERR from Donetsk: How far have the Ukrainians progressed over summer?

Anton Aleksejev talking to Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk Oblast (photo taken in May 2023.)
Anton Aleksejev talking to Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk Oblast (photo taken in May 2023.) Source: ERR

Corruption scandals within Ukraine's Ministry of Defense have culminated in Oleksii Reznikov stepping down as minister, even as he is hardly leaving under a cloud. Ukraine's forces in the field are slowly moving forward despite Russian minefields, ERR's Anton Aleksejev and Kristjan Svirgsden report.

Aleksejev and Svirgsden have been providing regular reportages since the current phase of the war began in February 2022, and filed the following, from the Donetsk oblast.

What has changed on the front in the last two months? More destruction, including villages which may be referred to as "liberated zones" in the media, but which often lie in ruins.

All the Ukrainian soldiers ERR spoke to are of a mind that the enemy should not be underestimated. Many of them provide pseudonyms, or nicknames, the latter here in their translation into Estonian.

One, Igor, said: "For a start, the enemy has in its possession plenty of precise and long-range weaponry. We do too, but much more is required in order to nullify the concentration and control points in the opponent's rear."

Thus far, the Ukrainians have proven more accurate than the Russian side. Anatoli, a Ukrainian solder took part in the liberation of the village of Urozhaine, Donbass.

"Our artillery has been working very well, not to mention accurately," he said.

"When the Russians tried to attack us, our artillery forced them to retreat. The Russians then used guided ordnance against us, but haphazardly, or senselessly," Anatoli added.

The Ukrainians have seen the most success in the Zaporizhzhia region. Here, as in Donbass, the goal has been to reach the Sea of ​​Azov. Both sides actively use reconnaissance and attack drones, as well as anti-drone measures.

Andrii said: "In the plus column for us, the Russians, unlike us, are not as well organized. If we detect a point where their anti-drone equipment is working, we can basically direct artillery there instantly. So when we detect them, we direct our fire and then it's done."

Minefields everywhere

However, the Russians were nonetheless ready for a Ukrainian counterattack They mined everything in sight – some sections of the front have up to 45,000 mines per square kilometer in place.

"Hulkur" said: "There are plenty of mines on their side. Our mine clearing unit, guys with nicknames like "Gutsul" and "Archi," is working around the clock."

These include anti-tank mines. "Our boys have been picking them up and then turning them against the enemy. Every time we liberated a village, they took them, to deploy them against the enemy.

There are more and more very young soldiers and officers entering the Ukrainian army, ERR reports. Ihor, a new officer, is 22 years old and only graduated from the military academy in February of this year. He has subordinates who are much more experienced than he.

Ihor said: "If I don't understand something, they can tell me, 'Boss, it has to be done like this.' Then if I ask why, they explain, based on their own experience, why it has to be done that way. I will listen to them, but ultimately I make the decisions myself."

The contrast between the rear and the front is a stark one

In Ukraine, one of the most surprising things has been the contrast between the rear and the front. While Ihor and his men are fighting at the front, people are relaxing on the beaches of Odesa, as if there isn't a war going on. But even in Odessa, things can be hazardous.

"The main threat in the Southern region has been and continues to be air attack. The enemy's main targets are the port infrastructure and grain warehouses. They plan their attacks well, and the consequences of these strikes are powerful," Natalia Gumeniuk, spokesperson for the Southern Command, said.

Nothing irritates the Ukrainians more than the question "Why has progress been so slow?".

Kirill said: "To answer the question politely, I would just invite them here. They don't have to go on an offensive with us, just let them see the whole thing is progressing. Let them see how much effort we have to make, and at what cost. But to be honest, I can't answer this question politely."

Kirill is an experienced fighter, who was in Donbas in 2014 and 2015 in an earlier phase of the war.

"Before 2014, we had been brainwashed by Russian propaganda. It came through the doors and the windows. I would venture to say that now we have the opportunity to demonstrate that Ukraine is indeed an independent, sovereign nation," said Kirill.

According to Kirill's commander, Ihor, Ukraine's counter-offensive could be conducted at a more rapid pace.

He said: "First of all, strong artillery work is needed. It is not worth sending men to the enemy's well-fortified positions just so. We already obtained such experience from the village of Urozhaine. With the aid of artillery support, one can break through the second, third and fourth defensive lines, and reach Mariupol."," said Igor.

The last time Aleksejev and Svirgsden were at the front was two months ago, at a time when the area was still in Russian hands. Now it has been liberated, though some Russians still remain here – only those which Ukrainian soldiers refer ti as "good Russians", i.e. dead ones.

Another soldier, Maksim, had, along with some of his comrades, the rather grim task of collecting the enemy dead, with a view to exchanging them with Ukrainian dead collected by the opposing side.

Doing so is not only unpleasant, but also dangerous, and reveals the sheer cultural divide between the behavior of a barbaric, backward regime and a country which is at least trying to become Western-oriented.

"You need to bring a hook and try to pull them with it, as they may be booby-trapped. The Russians often do this with their own dead and even seriously wounded. In their worldview, someone seriously injured, and dying, must also take out an enemy or two with them," Maksim said.

"So to avoid this happening, you have to be very cautious," he added.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Välisilm'

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