Ukrainian troops see “light at the end of the tunnel” on the southern front

Ukrainian troops see “light at the end of the tunnel” on the southern front


They lived for months in foxholes shelled by Russian artillery on a front line frozen in stalemate. But with a counteroffensive in the south reaping results, Ukrainian soldiers were eyeing “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Leonid, Viktor, Bogdan and Yaroslav, all originally from northwestern Ukraine, joined the army after the Russian invasion began in February.

Since the summer, the four men have been standing on a second line of defense four kilometers from Russian forces in case a first Ukrainian line is breached.

Similar units are scattered along the front lines, according to a military press attache who accompanied AFP on Wednesday.

The daily routine of the troops consists mainly of waiting. At the bottom of a hole just wide enough for a man, a rocket launcher stands upright against a wall of earth.

Bottles of mosquito repellent left nearby testify to the inconveniences that nature causes soldiers.

A few yards away is a machine gun covered with a camouflage net from shell casings.

Another hole, only a few square meters in size, covered with logs, plastic and branches, offers space for two soldiers for the night.

On a front marked by heavy artillery duels, the four infantrymen hear shells explode, sometimes far away, sometimes close, knowing there is little they can do if a shell hits their position.

– ‘Constant Bombings’ –

“There hasn’t been any bombing for two hours… But they’re usually constant,” said Bogdan, 29, a worker who joined the Ukrainian army in 2014 before returning to civilian life – until this year.

“When you see a grenade explode ten or fifteen meters away from you, it’s scary. We are all human and we are all afraid,” said the father of two.

“The earth trembles even when our side fires, and even more so when they are the ones bombing,” he said.

But despite the hard everyday life, it is “better now,” says Bogdan.

“We see that our comrades, our ‘horde’ as we call them, are at work. We see their successes and that inspires us. he said.

Kyiv announced in late August its counter-offensive in the south, with the primary objective of retaking Kherson, a pre-war city of 280,000 and capital of the eponymous region bordering Mykolaiv.

But after recapturing some villages and hamlets in the first two weeks, the advance stalled, in contrast to another counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, in which Kyiv recaptured large parts of the territory.

Now, in the past five days, the southern counteroffensive has been catching up quickly.

– ‘Kill’ the orcs –

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of “rapid and forceful” progress and named eight recaptured locations in the Kherson region, confirmed by maps released by Russia’s Defense Ministry on the same day.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian president called for the “liberation” of three new villages in the region.

In a daily note on Thursday, the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Kyiv had made “big gains” in the north of the Kherson region in the past 48 hours.

After four months of battle, Kiev’s troops also recaptured Davydiv Brid, a strategic riverside village about 10 kilometers from the trenches visited by AFP on Wednesday.

“The guys’ mood has changed. It’s gotten a lot better,” said their commander Yaroslav, a burly 39-year-old man in a black cap.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Beyond Davydiv Brid remains only a vast plain where the “orcs” – a derogatory term Ukrainians use for Russian soldiers – “have no place to hide,” he said.

According to Yaroslav, 400 to 800 Russian soldiers recently arrived in their area as reinforcements after Moscow ordered a mobilization last month.

“No matter how much cannon fodder, if we split their ranks, they will run away,” said Leonid, 46, giving a thumbs-up.

In order to retake Cherson, “we must kill them. There is no other solution,” he said.

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