Ukrainian soldiers admit ‘we are just being killed’ defending Bakhmut
Ukrainian soldiers have painted a bleak picture of their ongoing defence of Bakhmut, the small eastern city that has become the target of Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since the Second World War.
Kyiv’s soldiers have said they knew they were being sent to their deaths when they were given the orders to go to the city, and admitted they are ‘just getting killed’.
Moscow has launched a massive winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of freshly called-up reservists and convicts recruited from jail as mercenaries, who form human wave attacks in an attempt to overwhelm Bakhmut’s defenders.
It is trying to capture Bakhmut to secure President Vladimir Putin’s first substantial victory in more than half a year, having invaded the country in February 2022.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has committed to defending the city, but the accounts of soldiers fighting there suggest the constant Russian onslaught of artillery, tank fire and suicidal assaults is taking its toll
‘When they drive us to Bakhmut, I already know I’m being sent to death,’ a soldier named Volodymyr told the Kyiv Independent, according to its new report.
Speaking during a break in Kramatorsk, a city 25 miles west of the frontlines, he said he struggled to eat after fighting in Bakhmut for months – convinced he would die.
The soldier from the 93rd Mechanized Brigade said Russian artillery pinned him and his unit down as they fought to defend Russian units from getting into the city.
‘(The Russians) keep firing at us, but we don’t have artillery – so we have nothing to attack them back with,’ Volodymyr told the Ukrainian publication. ‘I don’t know if I will return or not. We are just getting killed.’
Moscow is hell-bent on surrounding Bakhmut and seizing the city. No amount of losses appear to be too high for Russia to achieve this aim.
NATO intelligence has estimated that at least five Russian soldiers were killed for every Ukrainian loss, CNN reported on March 6.
But Russian forces outnumber Ukrainian by two or three times on the Bakhmut front, where an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 troops are currently fighting – according to Mykola, a staff sergeant who spoke to the Kyiv Independent.
Russia’s tactic of using these numbers to its advantage has been devastating. Its forces locate Ukrainian positions by drawing their fire and using massive strikes to kill as many defenders as possible, before closing in with infantry.
Small groups of soldiers push forward against the Ukrainian positions, many of whom are mown down by machine guns as they approach. Those killed are simply replaced by others also deemed expendable.
This tactic is known as human wave attacks, with reports suggesting it was pioneered in Ukraine by the Wagner mercenary group, which at its peak had 50,000 soldiers – many convicts – to crash against Ukraine’s positions.
One Ukrainian soldier, Vladyslav, said Russia’s attack groups would usually be made up of five soldiers, but that they seemed ‘scared’ to attack at close range.
Instead, they would use mass fire to destroy defensive positions, such as houses, so that Ukrainian soldiers had nowhere to hide, forcing them to give up their position.
Ukraine’s soldiers have said it seems as if Russia has ‘infinite’ stocks of munitions and manpower, against Ukraine’s machine guns and rifles.
Volodymyr said he is haunted by the deaths of his comrades. In one case, he recalled to the Kyiv Independent, he found a 29-year-old soldier lying dead with shrapnel wounds to the head. Despite knowing the young man was dead, he said he ‘kept wrapping his head (with bandages)’ in a futile attempt to save him.
Another Ukrainian infantryman by the name of Valeriy said most of his fallen comrades had been killed by projectiles, rather than in gun battles.
‘It’s a pity that probably 90% of our losses are from artillery – or tanks and aviation,’ he told the Ukrainian publication. If Ukraine had more firepower of its own, this would likely not be the case.
He told the Kyiv Independent that only a ‘few’ of his original 27-man platoon escaped Bakhmut unharmed. Most, he said, were wounded rather than killed.
‘The Russians have so many weapons, and there are so many of them,’ Valeriy said. ‘They are firing at us all the time. Sometimes, you hear an incoming every second.’