DONETSK, Ukraine – The fury of the Russian military is on full display in Bakhmut, where the majority of surviving civilians have fled the ongoing carnage as Ukrainian soldiers fight to save the city. As Vladimir Putin’s troops close in, those who have withdrawn fear what is at stake for their fellow soldiers.
A soldier, who goes by the name “Detcom,” spoke to The Daily Beast for hours after leaving terrorized Bakhmut after a month of fighting.
Detcom is part of the 206th battalion of the 241st Brigade of Ukrainian Territorial Defense. Throughout January he had been stationed in the town of Vovchansk, just under six miles from the Russian border with Belograd, to secure any advance from enemy land. On January 25, the disheartening news came: they were sent to Bakhmut.
“We would go to Krasna Hora village, [North]. But…. as we moved new orders came in so order from the [higher] brigade has assigned us to work on that piece of land that occupies the main road from Soledar to Bakhmut,” Detcom said.
The first two weeks were easier for Detcom’s brigade, holding off the Russian infantry with ease. “It was pretty easy. It’s true what they say in the news. These new Russian soldiers mobilized, ill-trained, ill-equipped, and they sent them to us, like waves of flesh,” he said. “This was for the first two weeks. Then they started using artillery and tanks. This is where it got ugly.”
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The 241st Brigade had only grenade launchers and mortars, nowhere near the caliber of weapons that could match the Russian artillery and tanks. Although they successfully held the lines at times, Russian soldiers made progress. “They pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed with tanks and all that stuff,” Detcom said.
Detcom’s fellow soldiers hid in the trenches, covering themselves as Russian troops fired overhead. Although they survived, Detcom and five others were shaken by the attack, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It then became more difficult to fight the enemy forces. “They have a load of Cold War-era artillery ammunition,” he said. “They don’t count the shells. [But] high brigades use western weapons, very accurate weapons, and it costs a lot, so they do not shoot to fire.
Detcom drives in Bakhmut.
Thanks to Detcom
The situation in Bakhmut became so serious for Detcom’s unit that he was ordered to drive to Kiev to find them a new car. While there, he went to visit a medic who had been admitted to the military hospital – only to find that men he knew had died in Bakhmut.
“He told me two men died,” Detcom said. “The next morning I got a message – a drone pilot has been killed.” Then, on the way back on February 16, Detcom “got word that my platoon’s master sergeant had been killed by a direct hit in a dugout.”
Reflecting on the emotional toll of losing his senior position, Detcom said he “started the whole thing with this guy.” His name was Maxim and we met on February 24, one year ago. We had our first assignment and later we were in one platoon. Recently he was promoted to sergeant of my platoon… that is quite difficult.”
The men who have fought alongside Detcom for the past year are more than just his peers, and the loss of even a single soldier is a huge blow.
“We tied each other up, we become friends, you know each other,” says Detcom.
So far, Detocm’s unit has lost only six soldiers: four in Bakhmut and two in the summer in Kherson, which was liberated from Russian occupation in November.
“It’s only six dead, but we have a lot of injuries and shell shock. My squad commander, my machine gunner and my squad’s driver, and another gunner, four men were all wounded in hospital because of grenades,” he said.
When asked about Bakhmut’s future, Detcom said that in the “bigger perspective, like in the next few months, if nothing changes in our tactics… they’re just going to overwhelm us eventually because they have a huge amount of ammunition for artillery, and they have enough manpower to send us to our position like waves of flesh.
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