A Commander Describes Ukraine’s Counteroffensive From the Front Lines

At the same time as he commanded troops in a fierce, weeklong battle to seize one Russian place, Col. Viktor Sikoza obtained disturbing information: The Russians have been utilizing this time to construct one more fortification behind it.

“They’re nonetheless constructing their defenses,” Colonel Sikoza stated. “They keep on doing it” whilst Ukraine is urgent ahead, nonetheless slowly, in a high-stakes counteroffensive within the nation’s south.

The troops of Colonel Sikoza, the commander of thirty sixth Marine Brigade, have been the tip of the spear in Ukraine’s push and have superior about 5 miles right into a bulge into Russian strains in southern Ukraine.

Colonel Sikoza is only one commander, however his account matches Ukrainian experiences of heavily entrenched Russian positions. Over the previous week, Colonel Sikoza oversaw an assault on a forest that was partly surrounded by swampy, low-lying terrain. Russian forces had dug in and mined the one floor round that was agency sufficient to assist armored autos. The assault, he stated, needed to happen on foot.

Infantry filtered into the forest and fought at shut vary, he stated. “We’re marines — we’re aggressive,” he stated. An organization of Russian troopers, about 80 males, have been dug into trenches within the bushes, he stated. Colonel Sikoza described how a decisive flip got here when his troops captured two bunkers and a trench line on the sting of the forest, partly reducing off the Russians potential to resupply the group and forcing them to retreat.

His troopers are extremely motivated to seize positions, and with them Russian prisoners: Within the first month of the warfare, the thirty sixth Marine Brigade was surrounded within the metropolis of Mariupol and greater than 1,000 marines have been taken prisoner by the Russians. “We need to commerce them for our guys,” Colonel Sikoza stated of Russian captives.

Colonel Sikoza’s advance to the south can be a private odyssey. He escaped from the Crimean Peninsula when Russia occupied it in 2014. If the counteroffensive is profitable, it may put Ukrainian artillery inside vary to threaten the isthmus to the peninsula, reducing Russian provide strains.

Nevertheless it has been painfully gradual. President Volodymyr Zelensky has conceded that the counteroffensive shouldn’t be going as quickly as some allies had hoped, and American officers have stated Ukraine is dropping Western-provided armored autos within the minefields.

“For greater than a yr, the enemy fortified right here,” Colonel Sikoza stated in an interview at a picnic desk within the shade of a walnut tree within the yard of his command put up close to the entrance. Each minute or so, the booms of outgoing and incoming artillery rang out.

Of the Ukrainian effort to advance, he acknowledged: “It is not going to go in accordance with the tempo we counted on.”

Forward of the Ukrainian bulge on this spot, the Russians have accomplished a 3rd line of defenses, Colonel Sikoza stated. They’ve laid further concrete tank obstacles of a sort the Ukrainians name dragon’s tooth. They usually have deployed further troops.

There may be little he can do about it, he stated. “Sadly, we wouldn’t have sufficient precision weaponry to hit targets at lengthy vary” behind the Russian entrance strains. The extra defenses, he stated, will gradual Ukraine additional.

Nonetheless, Colonel Sikoza’s troops have scored some successes.

One soldier, who requested to be recognized solely by his rank and first title for safety causes, Lieutenant Yevhen, stated he had shot down a Russian assault helicopter utilizing a Javelin anti-tank guided missile, a uncommon feat with a weapon largely meant to hit targets on the bottom.

And although the brigade operates largely Soviet-legacy artillery methods, it was in a position to hit a Russian barracks far behind the entrance line, Ukrainian officers stated. A gaggle of Russian troopers had posted a video on social media complaining of poor residing circumstances and what they stated have been unreasonable orders from commanders.

Lt. Denys Ryabynko, who instructions a unit of Grad rocket artillery, was much less within the criticism than within the distinctive brick constructing within the background. The Ukrainians have been in a position to establish it in a village behind Russian strains and hit it with a barrage of rockets, he stated.

Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting.

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