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'It's not safe here': Hidden in a Ukrainian forest with the 93rd Brigade as they're called into action

We are deep in the Ukrainian forest, concealed by thick foliage and trees.

This war was a brutal one, and we were privileged to have rare access to one the most valuable military assets of the country.

We are awaiting orders from the Ukrainian troops of the 93rd Brigade.

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They are prepared to spend a long time in the forest, if necessary, and have created some napping areas, which are hideouts made with twigs and branches. These provide natural camouflage.

Their Russian enemies could spot them and put their lives at risk.

Their role is based on invisibility.

Their prized weapon is half-submerged and parked up in a bush.

She is 60 years old, but she is considered a veteran. The Ukrainians believe that she is crucial in the long-distance conflict. As such, she has been cared for by soldiers while they are there.

This is an older multiple rocket launcher from Soviet times – it was built in the 60s and still works with devastating effect.

Her full load includes 40 122mm missiles. These can be fired at targets 20km away (12.4 miles) in less than 20 seconds.

They can deliver an enormous explosive package that can cause massive destruction and fragmentation across a large area. These bombs are capable of destroying entire enemy positions and even entire villages in minutes.

Image A missile launcher can cause massive destruction

‘Hailstorm’ of explosives

Human rights activists have criticized both sides of this bloody conflict for using such weapons.

They are called grads, the Russian word for “hail”, and can unleash a “hailstorm of explosives randomly over large areas.

They should not be regarded as precision weapons.

Russia has the numerical advantage and is using its long-range artillery to devastating effect in the Donbass region.

The stock of Ukraine is far smaller than their enemy’s, which has led to repeated requests by troops and President Volodymyr Zilenskyy for longer-range weapons from their partners.

Image The weapon has a total load of 40 122mm missiles

The American-made, much younger Multiple Launch Rocket System is (MLRS), considered far more advanced and precise.

It can also hit targets hundreds of kilometers away and has a longer range.

The 93rd Brigade currently has the Soviet veteran at its disposal and they are in desperate need of her.

Crew members get orders to shift, and then there is action.

They quickly move to get in the rocket launcher, and then drive fast down forest roads to avoid being seen or heard by Russian drones.

Image Soldiers are ready for a long spell of work in the forest

Within minutes, the crew moves into the field to set up the sights and position the rockets.

The orders are “Fire 20”.

The 20 first rockets are launched with a loud shudder that sounds like a sound wave. It travels through your body, right down to your soles and feet.

People who are near the receiver end will hear a frightening howl, followed by a crash thud as they land.

“Fire 20” is the new order, and the second load goes off.

In a matter of minutes the crew has been back onboard and racing off the field before the anticipated return attack.

Image Targets can be hit from hundreds of kilometers away

“It’s unsafe here”

Multiple groups of troops are positioned around the southern border of Izyum trying to stop Russians from attacking the Donbas from another front.

From the 93rd, we traveled at high speed with “Chief”, across terrifyingly exposed farmland as well as Russian lines approximately 4km (2.5 mi) away.

As our vehicle drove across fields and sandy tracks, we could see smoke clouds rising from several Russian positions. Finally, we arrived at a small cop.

We were greeted by a group of slightly bedraggled, exhausted soldiers with grubby faces.

As soon as Ivan meets us, he says “It’s unsafe here.”

They appear to have been shelled just an hour or so before we arrived.

They claim they are regularly shelled throughout the day, which is not unusual.

This area doesn’t appear to see much movement by the Russian troops.

Image Fighters have constructed hideouts using twigs and branches

Ukrainian soldiers show gratitude to Britain

Ivan proudly displays some weapons that were given to them by foreign allies. He then pulls out an Nlaw.

He smiles and says, “It’s British.”

To show their gratitude to the UK for sending them weapons, troops and civilians often shout “God Save the Queen to Us” to each other.

N-laws are particularly powerful.

They are designed to destroy tanks quickly with one shot.

Ivan however, tells us that in their current position they have been of less value.

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Image To fight the Russians, fighters require more tanks and artillery.

He says that Russian tanks are not closer than three and half kilometres away and that the weapon cannot reach the target at such a distance.

They point out the Russian tanks and other military vehicles that were destroyed on the other side of the water.

This shows how close they are to being stopped. The Ukrainians expect them to continue their attacks until they can stop them. For that to happen, they will need more weapons.

Ivan said, “We need tanks” and echoed what all senior Ukrainian officials, including the president, seem to be saying.

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The Russians seem to have learned from their previous failures in trying to encircle Kyiv and Kharkiv.

They have adapted their tactics to target smaller targets in eastern Ukraine or the Donbas.

They’re also doing it from a distance, forcing both parties to pound villages in an unforgiving battle for the upper hand.

: Alex Crawford reports from Eastern Ukraine’s frontlines with Jake Britton, cameraman and producer and Chris Cunningham, Artem Lysak and Nick Davenport.


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