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Proud band of Ukrainian soldiers attack Russian in the Gulf – for now

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Proud band of Ukrainian soldiers attack Russian in the Gulf – for now

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine – The remains of a Russian tiger-fighting vehicle were smoldering by the side of the road, as Ukrainian soldiers sat outside their trenches smoking cigarettes. Nearby, a group of local villagers tampered with a captured T-90 tank, trying to resupply it so that Ukrainian forces could use it.

For three days, Russian forces struggled to take Mykolaiv, but by Sunday, Ukrainian troops had driven them back from the city limits and had retaken the airport, at least temporarily on the Black Sea. with the Russian advance was stopped.

“Some people expected this kind of strength from our people because, when you haven’t slept for three days, and when you only have one dry ration because the rest is burnt, when it’s negative temperatures and there’s no way to warm you. There is nothing to do, and believe me, when you are in constant battle, it is very difficult physically, ”said a tired colonel of the 59th brigade of the Ukrainian army Svyatoslav Stetsenko in an interview. “But our people tolerated it.”

Taking Mykolaiv remains a major objective for the Russian military, and Sunday’s artillery barrage in the distance suggested the Ukrainians had not pushed them back that far. But the unexpected Ukrainian success of defending this important port, some 65 miles from Odessa, underscores two emerging trends in the war.

Russia’s failure to quickly seize Mykolaiv and other cities as intended by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is largely a function of its military’s faltering performance. The Russian military has faced logistical snafus, shocking tactical decisions and low morale.

But it is the furious and, according to many analysts, an unexpectedly capable defense by Ukrainian forces, who have largely retreated, that has largely halted the Russian advance and, for now, prevented Mykolaiv from falling into Russian hands. stopped from.

For three days, soldiers of the 59th Brigade of the Ukrainian Army, along with other military and territorial defense units, have been defending Mykolaiv from Russian assault on multiple fronts, facing artillery barrages, helicopter strikes and rocket attacks. , some of which have killed civilians in the neighbourhood.

Citizens elsewhere in Ukraine bore the brunt of an unrelenting Russian attack on Sunday. Ukrainians were unable to flee the southern city of Mariupol for the second day in a row under heavy Russian shelling, despite efforts to negotiate a ceasefire. And civilians trying to leave Kyiv, the capital and the nearby city of Irpin, also came under attack from the Russian army. Mortar shells were fired at the battered bridge used by those fleeing the fighting, killing four people, including a woman and her two children.

Mr Putin denied in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron that the Russian military was targeting civilians and vowed to reach all of its goals “through talks or war”, according to the French.

Ukrainian forces are still present and able to defend after 11 days of war, a great achievement in itself. Most military analysts and even some Ukrainian generals predicted that if Russia launched a full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s military, which is dwarfed by its counterpart in almost every measure, would take more than a few days or hours. Won’t work But by leveraging their local knowledge, attacking Russian troops with small, burning units, and using Western military aid such as antitank grenades to maximum effect, the Ukrainian military has managed to slow the Russian advance, if Has not stopped.

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“We fight them day and night; We do not let them sleep, ”said Major General Dmitry Marchenko, the commander of the forces defending Mykolaiv. “They wake up in the morning disorganized, tired. His moral psychological state is simply broken. ,

The governor of the Mykolaiv region, Vitaly Kim, said the Russian army was surrendering in unexpected numbers and had left so much equipment that it did not have enough military and municipal personnel to collect it all.

“We are in a good mood now,” he said.

Time may be limited for such attitudes. A senior Ukrainian military official speaking on condition of anonymity, discussing the sensitive military assessment, said outside Mykolaiv that Russian forces were regrouping and preparing for a counterattack, possibly with greater firepower. Russia still has many more troops and advanced weapons than Ukraine, and its air force now dominates the skies.

Despite almost frantic warnings from the White House of an impending Russian invasion in the weeks before it actually took place on February 24, the initial attack took Colonel Stetsenko’s unit by surprise, he said. His brigade was in a training exercise near the border with Crimea outside the town of Oleshki and only half assembled when it was ordered to prepare for battle.

“If we had got the order three or four days earlier, we could have prepared, dug a trench,” he said.

He said that this delay almost destroyed his brigade in the first hours of the battle.

The Russian army moving out of Crimea was five times the size of its Ukrainian unit and quickly overpowered it. His brigade had no air support and few functional antiaircraft systems, as most were sent to Kyiv to defend the capital. Most of the brigade’s tanks and armored fighting vehicles were destroyed in the initial attack by Russian aviation.

The brigade’s commander, Colonel Oleksandr Vinogradov, had lost contact with the military leadership and was forced to make decisions on the fly, said Colonel Stetsenko, who accompanied the commander throughout. Besieged and suffering heavy losses from attacks by Russian fighters, Colonel Vinogradov ordered his remaining tank and artillery units to punch a hole through a unit of Russian air raid troops, which found itself in the rear of the Ukrainian brigade. was located.

The maneuver allowed the main Ukrainian fighting force to cross a bridge over the Dnieper River and retreat about 45 miles to the west to Mykolaiv, where it could regroup and continue fighting with other units. can join.

“The enemy fighters attacked our tanks, several tanks were shot down and burned, and the rest survived and did not flee,” said Colonel Stetsenko. “They knew there were other people behind them, and they gave their lives to break the bridge to dig on the other side.”

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The strategy worked, but the cost was high. Returning to Mykolaiv, Colonel Stetsenko’s brigade had to sacrifice Kherson, which on March 2 became the first major city to fall to the Russian army. Colonel Stetsenko said, he had no choice. If they had tried to defend Kherson, Russian forces could have surrounded them and cut them off, opening a road to the west and Odessa.

With a white, finely cut beard and deep cracks around his mouth where there might have once been dimples, Colonel Stetsenko cut out an unusual figure on the battlefield. He is 56 years old and had retired from the army for a decade when he decided to re-enlist in 2020. By then, Ukrainian forces were already fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and Colonel Stetsenko felt he needed to do his job. ,

“I knew that many people who had already served were tired,” he said. “It is difficult to live without their families for so long, and we needed to serve the people. So I went to the military recruiting center and signed a contract. ,

Such a surrender goes some way to explaining the fierce resistance displayed by Ukrainian troops on the battlefield, as Russian troops appear to be surrendering in large numbers. The in-depth knowledge of the Russian military gives the Ukrainian army another advantage.

Colonel Stetsenko served with the Russians as a young soldier in the Soviet Army in the 1980s, when he was stationed in the Far East. Now, some soldiers based at the same Russian outposts where he spent his youth are fighting against him.

“They are my enemies now,” he said. “And every one of those who come here with weapons, who come here as an aggressor, I will do everything possible to ensure that he remains as fertilizer for our land.”

On Sunday evening, Colonel Stetsenko returned to the front line outside the city, where the sounds of war once again intensified as Russian troops regrouped to counterattack. This has been the way of this war, in about a week and a half, a violent ups and downs that focused on some major cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv.

In Mykolaiv, Colonel Stetsenko and his comrades conquered the city on the day of rest. It was sunny for a few hours in the morning, followed by light snowfall in the afternoon. Streets that were deserted a few days ago were re-populated, with mothers pushing strollers and people walking dogs.

On the outskirts where fighting was most intense, 54-year-old Nikolai Belyashchat was joined by some of his neighbors to work on a Russian T-90 tank, which now sports a Ukrainian flag. It was damaged when Ukrainian forces blew up the bridge it was running over, and now only the threads on its left side functioned properly.

“I’ve been a driver all my life, so I know a little bit about mechanics,” said Mr. Bilyaschat. “Though I don’t know anything about tanks.”

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