Experience of a Ukrainian soldier from the front line
A front-line soldier gave an account of Ukraine's outnumbered and outgunned military and their efforts to hold on to their strongholds on the east bank of the vast Dnieper River. Several hundred Ukrainian soldiers crossed the river as part of the counteroffensive. Under relentless Russian fire, the soldier has spent several weeks on the Russian side of the river as Ukraine tries to establish a bridge around the village of Krinki.
BBC did not name him to protect his identity. His report, sent via a messaging app, talks about soldiers crossing the river using boats, inexperienced soldiers arriving as reinforcements and feeling abandoned by Ukrainian military commanders.
The Ukrainian army declined to comment on the allegations, citing security reasons. "The entire river crossing is under constant fire. "I saw boats with my comrades simply disappearing into the water after being hit, lost forever in the Dnieper River," said the Ukrainian soldier.
"We have to carry everything with us – generators, fuel and food." When you build a bridge, you need a little bit of everything, but the supply wasn't planned for this area. We thought the enemy would run away and then we would be able to safely transport everything we needed, but it didn't turn out that way. When we reached the east coast, the enemy was waiting. The Russians we managed to capture said their forces had been tipped off about our landing, so when we got there they knew exactly where to find us. They threw everything at us – artillery, mortars and flamethrowers. "I thought I would never get out," he stressed.
However, several hundred Marines managed to cross the bridge, aided in part by Ukrainian artillery fire from the higher, western banks of the Dnieper. The river separates parts of the Kherson region in the south of the country under Russian occupation and parts under Ukrainian control.
The General Staff of Ukraine reported in its report yesterday that Ukrainian forces are maintaining their positions on the eastern bank of the Dnieper and are inflicting "damages on the enemy". However, this soldier's testimony reveals divisions between the Ukrainian government and its generals.
Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhny told The Economist magazine in November that "just like in World War I, they have reached a level of technology that puts them at a standstill." President Zelenski's office quickly reprimanded the general for his comments, denying that there had been a stalemate on the battlefield.
"Every day we sat in the forest and endured the attacks that came. We were trapped – the roads and paths are full of mines. The Russians can't control everything, and we're taking advantage of that. But their drones are constantly buzzing in the air, ready to attack as soon as they see movement. Supply was the weakest link. The Russians were following our supply lines, so it became more difficult – there was a real shortage of drinking water, despite our deliveries by ships and drones. We paid a lot ourselves – we bought generators, portable chargers and warm clothes ourselves. Now the cold is coming, it will only get worse – the real situation is being covered up, so nobody will change anything. Many believe that the command simply left. The boys believe that our presence had more political than military significance. But we were just doing our job and not getting into the strategy," explained the Ukrainian soldier.
There is no doubt that the crossing of the Dnieper river forced the Russians to redeploy some of their forces from other parts of the front, such as their well-defended positions in the Zaporozhye region, where Kiev hoped to make a breakthrough more quickly. BBC Russia recently spoke to some Russian soldiers defending the riverbank in the area.
They said the move by Russian troops was "suicide", saying they had lost many men in the fighting and were unable to dislodge the Ukrainians from their stronghold. The Ukrainian military says it wants to target Russian supply lines and force them back far enough from the river to protect civilians from shelling.
"Most often our losses were the result of mistakes – someone didn't climb the trench fast enough; another was hiding badly. But thanks to our doctors, if we manage to get an injured soldier to the medics – he will be saved. They are titans, gods. But we cannot retrieve the remains of the dead. It's just too dangerous," said the Ukrainian soldier.
As Russia fills its ranks with conscripts and pardoned prisoners, Ukraine struggles to find the labor force it needs. A recent BBC investigation found that nearly 20.000 men have left Ukraine since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion to avoid conscription.
"Several brigades should have been stationed here, not individual companies - we just don't have enough people. There are many young people among us. We need people, but trained people, not these "greens" that we have now, guys who trained for only three weeks and managed to shoot only a few times," complained the Ukrainian soldier.
The village of Krinki has been turned into ruins. The scenes of palpable relief when the city of Kherson and parts of the Kharkiv region were liberated a year ago have not yet been repeated. Instead, Ukraine's victories have come down to capturing small pieces of devastated and abandoned land. This is why President Zelenski's arguments for long-term support from the West are harder to sell politically.
However, regardless, the anonymous soldier's fight will soon continue. "I escaped with a concussion from a mine, but one of my colleagues did not make it - only his helmet remained." I feel like I escaped hell, but the guys who replaced us last time fell into an even bigger hell than us. But the next rotation is coming. "I will cross the river again soon," he concluded.