When and where the Ukrainian counter-offensive will take place is top secret. The preparations have been going on for months – including the training of the soldiers.
“Are you ready? Let’s go!”. In full gear, rifle at the ready, live ammunition and the others in view if possible – this is how a uniformed group from the civil territorial defense moves through a forest in the Zaporizhia region. They are tasked with securing the dense green forest and storming an enemy trench in which the other side is entrenched.
“Either move on or retreat and regroup,” shouts one of the instructors. Again and again the men crouch on the brown forest floor, crouch in bushes or under trees and give each other signs. They shouldn’t move more than 3-5 seconds, as it takes about that long for an average shooter to hit. The Russian side is better prepared in its positions than the Ukrainian soldiers because their soldiers are on the defensive, according to the instruction.
“Save as many lives of our soldiers as possible”
Finally, the forest is considered cleared and under control. Now the attack group should capture or kill enemy soldiers in the dugout, according to the order. It’s pretty hot and some people break a sweat. After the first round, the men gather around instructor Kostyantin Vasychynsky. The giant with a mustache is an officer on the active reserve and will be chasing them through the woods again and again that day. “We want to save as many lives of our soldiers as possible. And that’s why we’re improving their combat skills here,” said the 56-year-old.
He has been in this brigade for a month and it is of course a difficult task:
The more they learn, the more they sweat here, the less blood our soldiers will spill in this counter-offensive.
The more they learn now, the less blood will flow in the counter-offensive, says Vasytschynskyj, the instructor.
The grandfather of four, Vasychynsky, gave up his army service almost 20 years ago. With the beginning of the war in Donbass in 2014, he came back, was injured a year ago, and then became an instructor. “At least these guys here have combat experience,” he points to the men who are loading their guns from an ammo box in the grass.
Don’t underestimate the enemy
On a hill a little further on, a group of National Guardsmen is examining the front line. Oleh also lets his gaze wander across the plain. The Russian side is bombing from the air and also shelling people in the villages near the front line with tanks and artillery, the brown-haired officer said.
In fact, many people are now coming from such destroyed villages to the regional capital, Zaporizhia. Further south, the Russian army has set up several solid defense lines, the young officer said. One should always be prepared for the worst, because the Russian army has been in combat for a year and has gained experience.
He can only assess the situation in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory from the outside, because he knows one thing for sure: “If the Russian soldiers were all alcoholics or unable to fight, as some claim, then the war would probably be over by now. Man should never underestimate the enemy.”
New tactics thanks to Western weapons
More people die in an offensive than defending the lines, Oleh says, but thanks to Western weapons, new tactics are possible and more Ukrainian soldiers have a chance of surviving the counteroffensive.
Oleh studied at the Kharkiv National Guard Academy. At the beginning of the major Russian invasion, he was supposed to help defend the city of Melitopol in the south. That failed and he ended up in the Zaporizhia region. Constant training, good weapons and combat experience are among the most important things, which is crucial when in contact with the other side.
“Nowadays, not only military training is important, but also the psychological and moral stability of the people,” says Oleh. “Often we have casualties because of panic or fear of the enemy. If a man cannot overcome his fear, then he cannot think and fight.”
afraid of Russian prisoner of war
The fear of Russian imprisonment is also going through the minds of many during the preparations. Everyone has them in mind: the shocking videos of sadistic killings of Ukrainian soldiers by the Russian side. Castration, beheading with a knife, arbitrary shooting. Oleh knows soldiers who were in Russian captivity and were constantly humiliated and beaten there. Simply that way.
Being captured is very scary, I can’t even tell what I would choose if given the choice. Imprisonment or death.
There are Ukrainian soldiers who have a grenade for themselves, says veteran national guard Oleh, a civilian construction worker in Ivano-Frankivsk.
Some of the men who are taking part in the preparations that day are also concerned about this. “We are trying not to be captured,” said one. And another added: “We are doing everything necessary to drive the occupiers out of our country. We don’t want anything else.”
In use for over a year
The two belong to a unit of the territorial defense and come from Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine. They have been in use for over a year – without rotation, they say. On this day they take the shelter of the other side in several exercises. Nobody is injured or dead.
But they all know that this can be noticed differently in an emergency. One of their unit has since died, another has been wounded, the small group says. In civilian life, everyone is a construction worker, but now they want to persevere, they say. “We believe in ourselves and know that in the end everything is Ukraine again.”