Frontline Ukrainian Soldier Describes Reality of War 2 Years On; Dnipro River Operation ‘Suicide Mission’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ihor in Ukraine on Jan. 28

Saturday marks two years since Russia began its aggression against Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military has been facing an uphill battle ever since.

The Dnipro River crossing operation in the southern province of Kherson is a last-ditch battle.

“The Russian military, which is 100 times larger than ours, is in front of us, minefields are next to us and the river is behind us,” a Ukrainian soldier whose given name is Ihor told The Yomiuri Shimbun when describing the reality of the war. “It’s a suicide mission, but we can’t back down.”

He described what is considered to be one o the toughest battles.

Ihor, 44, was fighting in Krynky, a village on the eastern bank of the Dnipro, until the end of December. He said he has currently suffering from a muscle cramp, apparently as a result of trauma he received while on the frontlines.

Krynky is a bridgehead for Ukraine as it aims to retake areas occupied by Russian forces and cut off Russian supply routes to the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine failed to break through from the southern Zaporizhzhia region in a large-scale counteroffensive launched in June but hopes to succeed through Krynky.

When the first Ukrainian troops neared Krynky in September, there was a feeling of elation as they thought they were about to make their largest military gains. However, the situation changed.

“We are now on the defensive,” Ihor said. “All we can do is hold out against Russian attacks.”

Ihor attempted his first river crossing in mid-December. There were already many casualties, and the commander gave soldiers a chance to leave, saying that those who had family issues could withdraw. However, they all chose to stay and said that the troop was like a family, sharing both good times and bad.

About 10,000 Russian soldiers have been deployed on the east bank. It takes about an hour to cross the Dnipro River by a small six-person boat, and Russian soldiers usually spot them when the boats are about halfway across and launch drone attacks or fire weapons. A large number of mines are buried along the riverbank, so one in three boats do not make it across the river.

Ihor said he could hear laughter and music coming from the Russian camp about 70 meters away, but he had to stay focused. Soldiers from the Russian unit known as “Storm-Z” squads could come at them “like zombies.”

The bodies of Russian soldiers are said to be left near the line across which the two militaries are fighting.

The number of bullets fired by the Russian military is about 10 times that of the Ukrainian side, but the attacks are not limited to ground assaults. Russian forces also vary the patterns of their drone operations. One tactic is landing bomb-laden drones in Ukrainian territory, monitoring the area using the drones’ cameras and detonating them when soldiers approach. Drones are also always hovering over the village’s only source of drinking water.

Ihor said the most difficult part has been not being able to save his fellow soldiers who could have been saved. The only means of transporting wounded soldiers is by boat, and if there are several in need of treatment, a triage is used. A soldier in Ihor’s troop was injured by a mortar in December and died for lack of timely treatment.

“I’ve said goodbye to my life many times and am prepared to die,” Ihor said. “All I can do is pray to God.”

He is currently at a base away from the frontlines but waits for new orders.