Last week I explained why Bakhmut is falling. The piece included long excerpts from a piece published by Kyiv Independent. The reporter had talked with soldiers who had been at the Bakhmut front. Their description of the situation there was devastating.
Now a different reporter for Kyiv Independent has a somewhat similar report:
Battle of Bakhmut: Ukrainian soldiers worry Russians begin to ‘taste victory’
You should read that report as I will not fully cover it. But want to quote some passages as they nicely confirm my other recent piece about the real casualty rates of Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut.
Pulling away the propaganda and general sentiment stuff there is this:
Just days before heading back to fight in the Battle of Bakhmut, a Ukrainian soldier Volodymyr, 54, said he felt ill-prepared.
"When they drive us to Bakhmut, I already know I'm being sent to death," Volodymyr told the Kyiv Independent during his brief stay in Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk Oblast some 25 kilometers west of the front line.
"(The Russians) keep firing at us, but we don't have artillery – so we have nothing to attack them back with," Volodymyr said. "I don't know if I will return or not. We are just getting killed."
Ukrainian infantrymen interviewed by the Kyiv Independent described the fighting in Bakhmut as a desperate survival challenge against Russia's "infinite" stocks of artillery munitions and manpower. With just their machine guns and rifles, they say they braced relentless Russian mortar and artillery attacks until their hideout was eventually destroyed.
Valeriy, a Ukrainian infantryman, says that most of his fallen comrades were fatally wounded by projectile fragments.
"It's a pity that probably 90% of our losses are from artillery – or tanks and aviation," Valeriy told the Kyiv Independent a few hours after leaving the Bakhmut front. "And much less (casualties) from shooting battles."
Valeriy counted that "only a few" of the original 27 members of his platoon got out of the Bakhmut front with him, though he explained that most of them were wounded, not killed.
"The Russians have so many weapons, and there are so many of them," Valeriy said. "They are firing at us all the time. Sometimes, you hear an incoming every second."
Artillery is, as expected, the big killer in Bakhmut. While there are also many wounded the chances for them to eventually survive is not that big. Artillery wounds are notoriously unclean and slow to heal. There are allegedly Ukrainian orders that slightly wounded men must just be patched up and immediately send back to the front. Working in muddy battle trenches with notoriously bad sanitary conditions practically guarantees that those patched up wounds will then get infected.
The Russian artillery advantage is reportedly 10 to 1. Artillery is causing high casualty rates. Any claim that Russian casualty rates are higher than those on the Ukrainian side are defying the logical conclusion from those facts.
Back to the frontline:
Infantryman Vladyslav from the 58th Independent Motorized Infantry Brigade says many soldiers in his platoon have refused to go to Bakhmut as Russians came closer.
Multiple soldiers from other brigades also said they’ve encountered many "refusers" who did everything not to be deployed back to Bakhmut.
During the last rotation in late February, Vladyslav said that only eight out of 25 soldiers in his platoon headed out to Bakhmut – and the rest said they couldn't go because of sudden fever or body pain.
The eight then headed to a position at a crossroad near the Bakhmutka River, where destroyed houses lined up. The platoon came under heavy Russian mortar fire as soon as they arrived.
Two were killed, and two were severely wounded – one soldier lost his arm, and the other was hit in the stomach by a projectile, Vladyslav said. The rest, including Vladyslav himself, received a severe concussion.
They were all evacuated from Bakhmut that day and lost the position.
That short engagement with 50% losses and severe concussions for the rest make reports of only 4 hour survival time in Bakhmut plausible.
The following description of the Russian style of fighting in Bakhmut is interesting. The tactic is designed to have as few casualties as possible. This also defies claims of 'human wave' attacks:
Infantryman Vladyslav said that the Russians would usually appear in a group of about five people at night, but they seemed "scared" to launch close-range attacks.
So instead, the Russians would use mass firepower to destroy the houses – where the Ukrainians hid to monitor invading forces – to the point that they were forced to abandon the position to seek another position with better protection, according to Vladyslav.
"They are (now) fighting smartly, too," Vladyslav said.
Another soldier confirms the take:
Maksym, 33, an infantryman from the 5th Separate Assault Brigade, said the Russians also had an established tactic in the southern area near Bakhmut.
The infantryman from Kyiv was deployed on the Ivanivske front, at the southwest outskirts of Bakhmut, throughout February 2023, where fierce fighting rages over a strategic village that sits on one of the key routes into the city.
Relying heavily on drones, the Russians would locate Ukraine's positions in the area. They would then fire multiple rounds of mortar and artillery, which would then be followed by infantry assaults, in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian soldiers, according to Maksym.
If the drones cannot detect Ukrainian positions, the Russians will send a few soldiers to fire gunshots until they hear return fire, according to Maksym.
As brutal as they may be, the Russian tactics have slowly worked and pushed back Maksym's unit by 1.5 kilometers in total throughout February.
It is a slow grinding business: reconnaissance-artillery fire, reconnaissance-artillery fire, reconnaissance-artillery fire-storm the position. Done well it leads to high losses on the defending side and small losses on the attacking one.
For lack of other means the Ukrainian army will continue with its costly positional defense tactic:
The village of Ivanivske, which sits on the highway to Kostyantynivka and is located only eight kilometers from Bakhmut, is among the settlements Ukrainian forces are fortifying.
A deputy company commander from the 80th Brigade, known under the call sign Third, told the Kyiv Independent that trenches were being dug out alongside the highway from Ivanivske to Kostyantynivka to prevent a Russian breakthrough in Ivanivske. The “operational pause” in the fighting in the areas further away from Bakhmut has been helpful to build fortifications.
"If the Russians capture Bakhmut, they will advance further to the south, to Ivanivske, then to Chasiv Yar, and further to the west," said Third, 45, who has served since 2014. "We are preparing in advance."
"At the moment, there is enough (defense)," he said of defending the rest of the region from Russians if Bakhmut falls. "But it's for now, and I do not know what the enemy will do next."
No one knows and that is the point.
Posted by b on March 15, 2023 at 13:16 UTC
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