BAKHMUT, Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers scattered around a howitzer in a field on a recent morning. In a messy operation, a man attached a 106-pound explosive shell from a truck to the gun. Another, using a wooden pole, pushed it into the hole.
“Loaded!” The soldier shouted, then knelt on the ground and covered his ears with his hands.
The gun fired a loud explosion. A puff of smoke rose. The leaves fell from the nearby trees. The shells charged towards the Russians with a metallic clang.
It is a scene repeated thousands of times a day along the front lines in Ukraine: gunfights and long-range attacks from both sides on targets ranging from infantry to fuel depots to tanks. .
And what followed Wednesday morning’s shelling in eastern Ukraine is also indicative of the rhythm of this war: a halftime break.
This was a war that took place in a cycle of opposites – bursts of chaos from shelling from the outside or from the front, and then a lull in which the soldiers carried out their attacks. most routine activity. Warriors who a few minutes earlier had unleashed destructive weapons with a thunderous roar had settled in a grove of oak trees around a picnic table with wooden canisters of ammunition, boiling water on the camp stove and pouring the cup of instant coffee.
They rested in an oak grove, overlooking a field of tall green grass and purple thistles. Elsewhere, soldiers used lulls to smoke or cut their hair.
On a recent visit, soldiers from the 58th Brigade were fighting in and around the city of Bakhmut, where the artillery battle was raging, both attacking and being attacked by artillery.
All over the rolling grassy hills west of Bakhmut, brown smoke rose from the incoming Russian assaults on Ukrainian artillery positions.
The critical importance of long-range firepower is one reason the United States and other allies have sent NATO caliber artillery forces to Ukraine. The country’s military has nearly exhausted all the remaining Soviet artillery shells in its arsenal and from its allies in Eastern Europe, and it is now turning to NATO’s more abundant ammunition stock.
Our Report on the Russo-Ukrainian War
Russia has a huge supply of artillery shells, but there are indications it is digging into older stockpiles that don’t normally explode on impact.
The commander, Lieutenant Oleksandr Shakin, said the type of Soviet heritage howitzer that the Ukrainian team fired, a D-20 model, was nicknamed the “bait”. Long-range US-supplied weapons such as the M777 howitzer and the High Mobility Artillery Missile System, known as HIMARS, have extended the reach of the Ukrainian military, but much of the arsenal remains Soviet-era guns.
The cannon they fired was made in 1979, he said, and most of the shells date from the 1980s. However, Lieutenant Shakin said, “They haven’t let me down yet.”
Normally, he said, he fires about 20 rounds a day from each gun, saving Ukraine a dwindling supply of 152 mm ammunition.
“We have a lot of momentum,” said Captain Kostyantin Viter, an artillery officer. “In front of us are our infantry and we have to cover them. Behind is our family.”
Inside the city of Bakhmut on Wednesday, at a position where soldiers of the 58th Brigade were stationed in an abandoned city building, the sirens of colleagues’ shells flying overhead could be heard – aimed at Russian forces east of the town.
Soldiers stood in the yard, smoking and listening to the hiss of shells overhead and explosions in the distance.
The hum of an electric trimmer fills the air as one soldier cuts another’s hair. Several trucks were parked in the yard and about a dozen soldiers were approaching.
About half an hour or so later, a new noise blended into the background of distant explosions: the tinkling of nearby explosions. What was once a languid summer morning turned into a chaotic scene.
Soldiers rushed to find cover or rushed to the ground. After more than a dozen bursts, it was over. A thick smoke drifted across the yard, and shards of glass lay scattered about. “Is everyone still alive?” shouted a soldier.
All the soldiers present in the yard escaped unharmed. But the Russian missile strike killed seven civilians and wounded six others in the vicinity near the soldiers’ base, authorities later reported.