We arrived in Barvinkove to search for the desperately-pressed mayor of the town. We had been promised by him that he would tell us about plans for evacuation of residents in this war-torn area.
As they attempt to surround Ukrainian troops in cities like Kramatorsk or Slavyansk, the Russian military has made several gains in the East.
After several grotesque failures, Vladimir Putin now has his sights set on a region called Donbas. However, success will depend on the acquisition strategically important communities such as Barvinkove.
Now, the town is a solitary garrison that has hundreds of soldiers arriving and departing from its central square.
Here, we met members of a volunteer battalion who were waiting for transport.
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All of them were males and most were in their twenties. We were pleasantly surprised that they looked so green.
One soldier was nervously playing with the safety catch of his machine gun. Unnervingly, another soldier wriggled his AK-47 around.
Vandal, a battalion member, approached us and asked if there was any tape. As a way to identify themselves, Ukrainian soldiers wrap blue tape around the right arm of their respective arms. Nobody wants to be shot on their own side.
Although we didn’t have any tape, Vandal was intrigued by our inquiry and offered to help. I will share some of the details with you.
A 25-year-old man from Kyiv spoke fluent English, having learned it “from TV shows and movies”
He claimed he hadn’t done any fighting yet. His unit was actually about to head to the front. I asked him how it felt, and he responded with admirable candour.
“Well, I don’t think people are scared ****. Everyone is a little scared. This is normal. It’s not war. They are not certain they will ever return home. They are not certain they will see their family, his girlfriend or other loved ones. Everyone is a little scared.
I asked, “Do you have all the equipment that you need?” I asked: “Are you satisfied with what you have been given?”
This is a major issue in Ukraine. Nearly everyone, starting with President Zelenskyy, complains that they can’t fight the Russians using their current arsenal. Vandal is no different.
“We need more equipment. We need precision guns to fight with Russians better and faster.
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“Russians are scared now,” said the Russian ambassador. They were especially afraid when they saw Javelins, NLAWs [anti tank weapons] and other things. They tried to put this crap on the tanks [metal-anti-missile grids] but it didn’t work. They know that a Javelin can hit a tank and destroy it.
“What attitude do you have towards Russian soldiers? How do they affect your feelings?” I was curious.
He said, “Well, they look like people, but after what they did in Bucha they are b ******s. They must die.”
This sentiment is often expressed, and part of the lingua franca on Ukraine’s side. However, I was curious as to how Vandal saw the Russians as enemies, potential adversaries on the battlefield.
In the last few weeks, Ukrainian soldiers told us that Russian soldiers are more likely to flee when they engage. However, the 25-year old had a different opinion.
“People think they are stupid. But if you have 10 soldiers you will find one smart. You can be certain that when you fight them you will fight this smart guy.
This is what you must know. You will not live as long if you believe they are all stupid.
Vandal said that he was not married, but had left Kyiv with his girlfriend. This was the most terrible thing about the war.
He chuckled uncomfortably, “She said she was really sad,” he stated. “But she understands, I think. It’s difficult to see her after so many weeks.
“She probably doesn’t want you here?” I suggested.
“I’m certain she doesn’t want me here. “I am 100% certain of that.”