SOUTHERN UKRAINE—Twenty-five-year-old Andriy almost paid the ultimate price on a mission near Bakhmut that had the Ukrainian soldier running through Russian minefields and toward enemy positions—all while attempting to dodge a hail of machine gunfire.
The mission in mid-July was part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to try to encircle Bakhmut, which had fallen to Russia earlier this year after months of battle. The city has been reduced to rubble.
“Tanks also worked in the area. In one place, everything was crushed, and there was no cover for 50 meters,” Andriy—who didn’t want his last name published—told The Daily Beast, adding that one of his friends got wounded. “Somehow, we managed to take him, and we dragged him to a water pipe, where we could hide safely.”
The pipe could shield them from the Russian bullets and their drones in the sky. Andriy helped get his wounded friend into it safely—but something hit him before he could shelter himself.
“My hands were injured with fragments. If I didn’t wear the bulletproof vest, nothing would be left of me. It saved me,” Andriy told The Daily Beast from a hospital bed in central Ukraine, barely able to move his hands as he awaited further operations.
“This war won’t end quickly. The war will probably continue for a year or two,” he said. “Very little about what is going on is being published. The situation is poor. That is the truth.”
The Ukrainian counteroffensive began in June. Since then, Ukraine has attacked Russian positions along large parts of the frontline, focusing on Southern Ukraine and Bakhmut in the east. Ukraine has managed to liberate several villages but hasn’t yet been able to break through Russian fortifications.
Moscow’s troops have dug several defensive lines consisting of trenches, minefields, dragon teeth, and anti-tank ditches—some of which are hundreds of kilometers long.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed hope that the counteroffensive might soon gain pace and the Ukrainians forces will be able to pierce through some of the minefields. At a press conference in Papua New Guinea recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Ukraine still has a lot of manpower left and “will continue to press” on.
“Ukraine is well-prepared and well-trained to be successful, and as you heard me say last week, they fought hard; they’ve been working their way to get through the minefields and other obstacles,” he said.
Andriy told The Daily Beast that getting through Russian defenses sometimes seems impossible. Every step he takes could be his last, he explained.
“Many people, those who are there now, are afraid. There should be more delivery of ammunition, delivery of medicines, delivery of everything. You suffer if it doesn’t arrive,” he said.
“I just want this war to end. I have had enough. But we need to keep fighting even if it is hard. We have to.”
In another hospital bed lies 39-year-old Ivan, another Ukrainian soldier who got wounded around Bakhmut. (Like Andriy, he spoke with The Daily Beast on the condition of using his first name only.)
“It is hard, very hard, right now. Nothing is easy there, but we adapt, we learn,” said Ivan, who had suffered fragment wounds in both arms. “I believe that we have better tactics, better know how to enter, how to get around, and how to clear places… But it is difficult.”
The soldier, who is part of an infantry unit, referred to the fight against Russian forces as an “artillery war.” It’ll be impossible for the Ukrainian army to make any real headway without more equipment, he warned.
He still plans to return to the frontlines after recovering. “I must come back because my boys are waiting for me there. They miss me. If not us, who will then go there?” said Ivan.
The fighting in Southern Ukraine is fierce. The Daily Beast joined an organization picking up wounded soldiers near the front line and bringing them to better hospitals in safer areas. The bus, equipped as an ambulance with several beds, was rushing to pick up eight soldiers.
One of them was 44-year-old Yaroslav, a junior sergeant and head of some infantrymen who had suffered a shrapnel wound in his hand.
“The enemy is dug in, the enemy mined almost all their positions, and in the storm on their positions, we lost quite a lot of people…” he said, “[But] we will move forward.”
Oleksandr,48, was wounded when the infantry vehicle he was in got hit in a Russian assault. He and his men managed to get out before the ammunition burst. His face was covered in bandages.
“Guys are getting tired. They get very tired. We have been fighting for a month or two; they are getting very tired. It is very hard,” Oleksandr told The Daily Beast, describing the situation as “scary.”
Oleksandr worked as a fireman before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. He joined the army voluntarily, and hopes that his son will never have to see a war like this again.
“I wish for peace in Ukraine. We have to fight and win. The main thing is to get peace. There will be many wounded, many killed before that happens,” he said. “It is scary, but we will win.”
The Daily Beast