“Brother Brother!”, shouts a Ukrainian soldier to a group of comrades who has just returned from the Bakhmut trenches mounted on a mud-coated armored vehicle. One of them turns around and as soon as he sees the companion who has called them, he jumps up and goes towards him, they face each other and do not hesitate to melt into a heartfelt hug that lasts several seconds. They are not family, but as if they were. In the constant coming and going of troops fighting in the hell he has become the longest battle of the Ukrainian wara familiar face from before the war is like a blessing.
“We are from the same neighborhood of Kyiv”, explains the one who is about to return to the slaughter. Unlike his partner, his camouflage uniform is clean, unwrinkled, and the green adhesive tape with which defenders identify themselves and which they wear on their arms and helmet seems to have just been applied. “We had not seen each other for more than a year,” he says. “How are you?” asks the freshman soldier. “Better than you,” he replies with his eyes bloodshot from exhaustion, tension and days without sleep, drawing on the dry irony so typical of the soldiery because his friend has to go back to the slaughterhouse.
The soldiers laugh and, before saying goodbye, hug each other again as if this were the last time. Maybe it is. The ratio of casualties, dead and wounded on both sides is very high, but unknown. The dance of figures provided by both the Ukrainian troops and their enemy the Kremlin remains confusing and difficult to establish. Local Army sources assure that the number revolves around the 200 casualties a day on both sides. However, no one will know for sure until the battle is over.
For the Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the ruins of Bakhmut, every life counts and is essential to avoid a possible Russian encirclement at the hands of the mercenaries from the private company Wagner, which is slowly gaining ground, but advancing in its attempt to pocket the defenders and cut off their supply lines by attacking relentlessly, especially on the southern axis of the Russian assault, where Moscow is trying to consolidate several bridgeheads in the swampy area around the Bakhmutka River. For this reason, Kyiv cannot waste either men or material. The fighters who have returned from that hell assure that their enemy does not act in the same way.
«It seems that they do not care about the lives of their soldiers. Many times they are thrown without cover or armored and many die senseless. To Russia, the blood of their own is brought to hove, “explains Nikolai, whose exhausted face cracks a crooked smile not because he rejoices at their deaths, but because he is still alive and in one piece, as he removes his harness and supports the gun on a wall He has just stepped out of the meat grinder that Bakhmut has become, though he is far from safe. “In three days we will return inside,” he says. The rotations for the rest of the troops of the Ukrainian Army are short and, moreover, very close to the front. “We have the base in Chasiv Yar,” he says, while explosions occur in this militarized city where they organize the defense, and it continues to be heavily bombed.
A Ukrainian T-64 tank passes at full speed on the road that goes directly to Bakhmut, producing a deafening and overwhelming roar. One of the tankers sitting in the turret salutes and makes the victory sign with his gloved fingers. At the side of the track, a man and a woman in uniform embrace. Their names are Pasha and Victoria, and they serve together in a unit specialized in handling drones. “We met at the beginning of the war and got married shortly after,” they explain. His is a job that is done in the rear, but which is decimating Russian armored vehicles and tanks. However, for days now “we have run out of drones. Many come through private initiatives. We need the world to continue helping Ukraine,” they say.
In the distance, the detonations of the BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher system missiles resemble the beating of a drum. But when they hit close, everything vibrates, and every jolt feels like God himself is pounding his fists into the earth. The first explosion is scary, the following ones, and there can be many because this Russian missile system can launch up to 40 rockets in less than 20 seconds, are an open door to panic. Wherever it falls, its rain of shrapnel produces a small apocalypse.
A little less than two kilometers from the line of contact, amidst the holocaust of destruction caused by the Grads, the nearby crackle of musketry, the whistles and detonations of artillery, and the whirring of Russian missiles, the sound of which is terrifying because the air-shattering throat-clearing is followed by a very brief silence, but what seems like an eternity, before the nearby explosion occurs, a young volunteer rests in the back of a van with the cargo area in the open, parked between various trees to avoid falling victim to enemy drones.
His name is Dimitri, alias Cherry, he lived much of his life in the United States and, until recently, he specialized “in the evacuation of civilians from the combat zone.” “For a few weeks he has been serving in the 28th Brigade of the Ukrainian Army,” he says. For him, the Numantine resistance in Bakhmut “is important because, if it were to fall, that it would give the Russians an open path to seize Chasiv Yar and then jeopardize Kostiantynivka.”
Something that, de facto, would endanger the entire Donbas front, which could collapse and would mean an immense moral and territorial victory for the Kremlin. “But we are still holding out in Bakhmut, where Our counterattacks are already underway.”, he emphasizes. “We will stay in the city until the end because it is also a way for the Russians to waste their resources and troops,” he concludes. However, this will mean a great sacrifice for the Kyiv Army, smaller in size than Moscow’s and, therefore, unable to afford the dubious luxury of sacrificing its best shock units in a conflict that has no end in sight. soon.