The Russia-Ukraine Battle in Kherson That Had Us Filming Our Dying Words

KHERSON, Ukraine — We hid in a town called Kherson, in the south of Ukraine, for 18 hours caught in the middle of a terrifying battle. Russians attack a huge formation of Ukrainian tanks, transport vehicles and aircraft carriers from two directions. When one of our tanks was passing by and was hit by a rocket grenade, we abandoned the vehicle and ran. We ran from place to place only to be turned back by rockets and artillery. We jumped off the bed of an old Soviet transport truck and huddled among the tires. Bullets whirring overhead.

We are still in Mariupol when Russia Invades Ukraine—Even though it’s been invading since 2014. We headed west as fast as we could, but that got us straight to Kherson, on that truck in the middle of the worst fighting Ukraine had ever seen. for a long time.

It was one of the first major clashes since Russia invaded Ukraine early that morning. At this stage, Russia is carrying out major land grabs. Army from Crimea went north to occupy a nearby airfield.

The bodies of Russian soldiers who died were put on display.

The attack began at an overpass on the P-47 highway at 3 p.m. on February 24, just outside Kherson, a strategic point of fighting near a small airfield 100 kilometers from the northern Crimean border. As the bang got closer, we pulled out our phones and shot a video to say goodbye to our 2-year-old son and his family.

Now, when we watch those videos, we can’t help but feel shame and disgust at having put ourselves in that position.

Before us was a dilapidated concrete structure. We ran for it, crawled underneath, and hid in the dust. A truck driver and a farmer followed us. There were no windows or blankets, but the farmer found a moldy bed sheet for us. And though magnificent flames reach into the sky around us in all directions, there will be no flame for us.

It was the longest and coldest night of our lives, and we didn’t sleep in a flash. In the days since, when we were able to sleep, we dreamed of the dismembered, dismembered bodies we passed on our way out of that place. We spent the freezing cold night in the room above, uploading and deleting videos, photos, and interviews from our 14-hour dip the day before.

That day was spent with the Ukrainian volunteer paramilitary team Third Force, on the front near Mariupol. We were attached to these men, an almost legendary team of 15 warriors whose commander was codenamed Groz. He knows that even guerrilla warfare is a war of hearts and minds. That was the first thing he told us, and the last.

Groz, commander of the paramilitary team of the Third Force of Ukraine, poses for a portrait with his rifle.

Robert Cooper

Ukraine has been at war for about eight days, but these guys have been at war for eight years. They fought Russian-backed separatists, and FSB agents attacked them from across the front lines just east of Mariupol, in the breakaway territory known as the Donetsk People’s Republic, which Russia recognizes as independent. set up with Ukraine the day before we got involved. surname. During our time together, they showed us everything: their methods and tactics, their ability to improvise, their technological campaigns, and their huge ammo memory. They feed us and tell us about themselves.

Earlier that day, they led us down a road strewn with minefields on either side. The mines were left by Russian-backed separatists, who took control of the area but knew they wouldn’t last long. There were ominous warning signs hung along the fields. As we were walking, Groz yelled at me to stay in the street — with a look of genuine panic.

Finally, we arrived at a strikingly beautiful beach in the Sea of ​​Azov, where we were shown their drones. One of the younger soldiers wears a VR headset. Groz swept the area with his assault rifle. The drone took off at 90 mph, straight to the front lines. Right after that, we heard multiple gunshots and the warrior with the VR headset started laughing. The drone returned unscathed, and we returned to base more carefully than we’d ever been on in our lives.

A sign warning of the presence of landmines by Russian-backed separatists.

Robert Cooper

That night, we met the head of a NGO named Blue Yellow, which provided supplies to the various battalions on the front. His codename is Panda. Blue Yellow’s work is legendary, and for those looking to help the front lines, Blue Yellow would be a good place to start. Groz and Panda told me that nearly all funding from the US government never reaches its destination. They believe this is a matter of inefficiency rather than corruption.

When Groz dropped us off at the hotel that night, he gave us a hug. He removed the battalion’s signed sticker from his shoulder and gave it to us. Then he left.

Hours later, the real battle began. We recognize the danger we face and also the danger the Third Attack could face if we are detained. We know we won’t be treated like journalists. For Russian forces currently targeting residential areas, the Geneva Accords are just a loophole. The easy thing to do is delete everything. But Groz risked a lot by giving up his position and tactics, and for one reason: He was counting on us to tell his story. Groz wanted the world to know that this war was not going to be the war Russia expected. These people are ready for all kinds of war. They are creative. And there are many more like that.

Ukrainian paramilitary forces patrol near Mariupol.

Robert Cooper

To find a way to lengthen the distance between us and Mariupol, we drove straight to hell in Kherson that followed both of us home and would likely drag us back.

In that concrete structure in Kherson, we watched as Russian tanks rolled right outside the window and forces from both sides roamed through the surrounding woods. The battle turned to a nearby bridge, which Ukrainian forces were trying to regain. We are in Russian-controlled territory, and this bridge is our only way out. All night, Russian jets bombed Ukrainian forces as they tried to maintain control. Somehow, the Ukrainians prevailed.

Just before dawn, we received a message from an intelligence contact who had been watching us all night to find a way to get us out. He said the Ukrainians had regained the bridge but he did not know if it was safe to get there. We knew this might be our only chance. So we took a crazy plunge for that bridge.

As we drove back to the highway towards the overpass where we were when the fighting broke out, we witnessed a burning wasteland. Ukrainian tanks were bombed everywhere. The bodies of Russian soldiers who died were put on display. As we approached the bridge, the view got worse. We passed the corpses of dead Russian soldiers. Near the bridgehead, in the middle of the road is the naked upper body of a man with two bones.

Weapon cache of the Ukrainian army.

Robert Cooper

We were informed that 30 minutes after we crossed that bridge, Russian forces recaptured it. We go west to Odessa. But we knew we couldn’t stay there for long. There have been reports of groups of Russians roaming the city at night, creating havoc. We hired a driver to take us to the Moldova border. But the refugee crisis has already begun. Traffic was backed up for miles.

So instead, we head to the unrecognized state of Transnistria, a narrow strip of Russian-backed breakaway Moldova territory along the Ukraine border. Upon entry, we were politely detained and interrogated by the Transnistria KGB. They don’t know what we should do. Suspicion quickly turned to fascination and confusion. In the end, they let us go, and we crossed to Moldova. Our relief on EU territory is immeasurable. But Moldova’s airspace was closed, and it was a few days before we could return home.

Many more people have died since that night on February 24, and many more are likely to die in the days and weeks to come. It’s been a long time since a man held the Free World hostage with self-serving pragmatism. But as Putin stripped the honor and integrity of 44 million of their people and their allies, the least we can do, as journalists, is to expose our depravity. he.

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