Published in Diena.lt [in Lithuanian]
One year in Ukraine’s War – still awaiting hardware and rotation
One year after the start of War in Donbass, Ukrainian military (SSU) continues to fight without adequate hardware, rotation or much needed support from the government.
Arriving at 54th Brigade, logistics and signalling battalion, the eye meets a very common sight – a 1970s Russian ‘Muscovite’, broken down bus, American van – given by volunteers, and three decades-old trucks – the only transport provided by the Ukrainian government.
“Our main problem is transport, and also accurate weapons,“ says Sergei Aleksandrovich, one of the officers. “And then, armoured hardware and drone reconnaissance.”
It‘s easy to see the catastrophic logistical problems the battalion faces. “If we had at least one good ambulance car, we could have saved more of or men,“ says battalion commander, Colonel Sergei; The only ambulance available is a 1970s GAZ, nicknamed the ‘Tablet’.
Risking their own lives, medical and logistics teams use this outdated van to reach the ‘green line‘, bringing help and crucial supplies for the forward posts – some of which are located as close as 200-300 meters from separatists positions.
“Medics are like gold to us,“ says Oksana, an officers. “One of our medics previously worked in a private clinic, but left voluntarily to go to the army.“ Oksana, as all other officers, preferred not to disclose her last name, fearing for her own and family‘s safety.
In the neighbouring tank battalion, the only available 4×4 vehicles are donated by individual volunteers from Lithuania. “If not Lithuanian support, we don‘t know how we would have survived,“ says Igor, member of the battalion‘s reconnaissance team. “In winter, they brought sleeping backs; now we also have two crucial jeeps, because of them.“
Some Lithuanians providing help to Ukraine work individually. Remigijus Kersnauskas, a volunteer, says: “I organise everything myself, so I don‘t have to waste time travelling between meeting, discussions and wasting time for PR.“
Because the work is not done through official NGOs, these Lithuanians risk arrest on Ukrainian border for ‘contraband‘. Arriving at a paratrooper base near Marinka, 20 kilometres from Donetsk, Ukrainian volunteer Natasha asked the soldiers: „If in Lithuania was now like in Ukraine, which one of you would help them like that? No one replied, and truthfully – I don‘t know how to reply myself.“
Rare and expensive night-vision equipment is not available to most of the soldiers at the forward positions. Even when guarding a post 800 metres from separatists positions – with diversionary groups working in the vicinity, Kolia and Serioga sit in blind darkness, listening to every creak.
„What can we do – we sit and listen. If separatists knew, that tank mechanics are sitting in such way, we would disappear quickly,“ laughs Kolia; nearby, a burned out mark is left by a 80mm mortar.
However, if looking at the situation optimistically, progress can be seen. “One thing that I can truly say is that we learned how to wage war,“ says the commander of 54th brigade‘s logistics battalion, colonel Sergei.
Two destroyed tanks lay in the first trench on the frontline, near the town of Zolote – already before the war a deprived mining village, where only a small percentage of people have stayed. Vitaly Ivanovich – one of the tank commanders, speaks after praying briefly: “One year ago, the commander put tanks in the first line, as if it was the Second World War; now you have accurate weapons. Currently, this idiot from the 93rd Brigade, is a national hero and sits comfortably in Kyiv.”
Delayed dembel – release from the military service, is the main topic circulating amongst the soldiers. Over 90% of troops, according to unofficial data provided by the officers, have already served 12 months and should have been demobilized.
“I came here to replace the guys, so some of my friends can go home – not because I‘m some big patriot“– says Vladislav, a tank-crew member.
“Now the new replacements are training, who will rotate out the people here,“ says the tank brigade‘s commander, Petrov Petrovich – who served in Afghanistan and was already retired, when he formed the battalion and joined the war a year ago – “At least, that is the plan,“ he adds.
First-wave conscript demobilization was delayed, due to a possible separatist offensive, according to information gathered by the Ukrainian intelligence.
However, the previous two weeks have been the least active in the whole war. “This silence only worries you,“ says Misha, sitting in one of the forward posts – “When they‘re shooting, you know it will be quiet after; now, I don‘t know what to expect.“
One likely scenario is that Russia‘s policy towards Ukraine is working to establish another frozen conflict, reflecting the situation in neighbouring Moldova and also Georgia. „I believe it will happen,“ says a volunteer soldier Koste, deployed nearby – „Maybe it will be hot for a year or so, and then that‘s it.“
In the last two weeks, 54th Brigade has lost one person, who stepped on an anti-personnel mine.
Such losses further demoralise remaining soldiers, as the conflict moves to a stationary frontline attrition and diversionary group confrontation.
„I‘m in the army since the 1980s,“ says Vitaly Ivanovich, who has served in Soviet, Russian and now Ukrainian military – „But here, without 100 grams [of vodka] is impossible to survive.“
„Even when uniform is taken off, you can tell who has been to Donbass,“ adds Igor, a scout.