Ukrainian soldiers told how they felt when they attacked the Russian line for the first time

Ukraine’s counter-offensive has faced more difficulty than many anticipated even as it has an arsenal of new, modern Western-made weapons and equipment.

Attack on the Russian line

Nestled in a narrow tree line on the southern front, a young Ukrainian soldier tells of how his team first attacked positions dense with Russian mines during a large-scale counter-offensive launched early last month.

“The first day was the hardest,” said the 19-year-old soldier, code-named “Kach”. “We don’t know what will happen, what might happen, how events will unfold,” he confided.

After months of anticipation, Ukraine finally launched the “Spring Offensive” in early June. Everyone knew it would be difficult for the Ukrainians after watching Moscow build up formidable defenses for months.

But even if there is no real expectation that the counter-offensive will be as favorable as Ukraine’s blitzkrieg around Kharkiv last September, Western officials still hope that Ukraine will go further and be more successful than it is now.

But it is clear that the current campaign has proved more difficult than many expected, even as Ukraine has an arsenal of new, modern Western weapons and equipment fueling the counter-offensive.

Among the most anticipated equipment is the US-made M2 ​​Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, an important addition to help infantry overcome rough and open terrain.

Speaking to CNN, Kach was sitting inside the Bradley fighting vehicle. Just a few months ago, he underwent an intensive American training course in Germany with Ukrainian soldiers to be taught how to fight more flexibly, complexly, and skillfully than the US.

Kach’s unit, the 47th Mechanized Brigade, was the only Ukrainian unit to receive the M2 Bradleys out of 200 that had been committed to delivery by the US.

Dog named Bradley

The Bradley infantry fighting vehicle was so popular with Ukrainian soldiers that they named the brigade press officer’s 6-month-old rescue dog its name, and soldiers in Kach’s squad often ran around the camp calling out “Bradley”.

The Velcro flag patch on his chest was a parting gift from his American coach in Germany, who told him it would bring good luck. But it was Bradley’s thick armor, powerful machine gun, missiles, and night vision ability that gave Kach more confidence when ordered to attack the Russian line.

When the brigade deployed, the Russians were ready. Dense minefields and deep crooked trenches were established. Russian artillery began to destroy vehicles sent to clear mines in the area.

Above all, this southern direction of attack is perhaps the most predictable direction in the counter-attack, chosen by Ukraine to try to break through Moscow’s lines, move south, and split the southern road bridge connecting Crimea and the Russian-controlled Donbas, before reaching the Sea of ​​Azov.

The 47th Brigade got into trouble very quickly trying to break through enemy lines in their new armor. Photos and videos show charred armored vehicles, including the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and the German Leopard tank.

Oryx, a military analysis website based on open-source information, reports that about 30 Bradleys have been destroyed or damaged.

“Clearing minefields is not difficult, but it is very complex and dangerous to conduct the work under fire from various enemy weapons,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst and senior fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, who recently visited Ukraine.

“Since the beginning of the campaign, they (Ukraine) have adapted and it seems to have become an infantry war without a horse,” Lee said. He emphasized: “Extremely difficult, extremely difficult. The burden is very heavy for each infantry soldier.”

There was no dissent from ordinary servicemen, nor from their commanders, who admitted progress had been slower than they would have liked.

Clearing mines near the “zero line”

In a southern town, about 10km from the kink of contact – commonly known as the “zero line”, the brigade’s 25th independent shock battalion established a headquarters in a basement bunker. It is filled with giant floor-to-ceiling maps, showing the battlefield positions of Ukraine and Russia.

A mainframe monitors the fighting through incoming reports and dozens of drone feeds.

A soldier updating a map shows CNN a map of Russia recently taken from a cleared trench detailing enemy defenses in the area. Loud explosions outside from Ukrainian artillery swept through the heavily damaged and now mostly empty town.

The drone’s feed showed empty fields, full of anti-tank mines and damage, riddled with craters caused by shells. The trees on the other side concealed the enemy forces defending in the trenches.

“We need to break through the mine barriers so that motorized and infantry can pass through,” said Tral, commander of a mine clearance platoon. A while ago, he had just walked back to headquarters after another dangerous mission, to destroy or clear landmines in their way.

They worked slowly, Tral said, “Everything was done gradually. Where we had [cleared] the passage, our troops entered it. We did not allow the Russians to enter where we had cleared the area.”

Tral shared a video from his phone showing a large explosion sending dust and shrapnel into the sky after a Russian mine was detonated. (Ukrainian soldiers often asked to be called by a nickname.)

“It’s hard,” he said, “very hard.”

Another soldier in the basement, Stanislav, was glued to the big screen, taking in various drone feeds from his area. By observing Ukrainian shells falling near Russian positions, this soldier will help coordinate artillery teams and other forces near where the shells fall to regulate fire.

“In this war, artillery is the most valuable asset,” Stanislav said bluntly, eyes fixed on the feed. “There are more Russian soldiers. Here and overall. They have more guns, they have more ammo and they have more men so we have to counter that with… professionalism,” Stanislav said.

Stanislav said: “There are Russian soldiers in the trenches. We can’t take it back with artillery. There are enemy soldiers standing there.”

That work requires perseverance and patience. The soldier holding a map of Russia pointed to a row of trees, and spread his index and middle fingers to indicate the distance, about 300m, he said “This part took us a month and a half”.

Under the table was Bradley, the press officer’s puppy. When it was time to start, it tensed up and refused to go out because the cannon was firing.

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