In the last month or so we have seen a flare-up in the fighting in east Ukraine, there are a number of theories behind this but that’s not what this piece is about. For me, it was a place where fighting was a day-to-day business. Nothing had changed, just a bit more coverage than usual. So for me, it was time to head back out there, to my home away from home.
I decided that I would hook up with some of my old teammates still slugging it out down there, they belong to a special operations unit working with a number of other units along the frontlines in one or two areas. One of the areas was our old stomping ground the town of Shyrokyne just on the outskirts of Mariupol. This really is one of them apocalyptic towns, not a building intact; bullet holes cover every surface in the area.
Since my last time out here, members of the Ukrainian Army had pushed all way through the town. So we had a FOB on the side I was once shooting at and working there in the night! It was a very surreal moment, driving into this end of town. I even had one them (what the fuck moments) as I realized where I was. To the see the damage that has been done and to know that you played a part in this is was very real for me.
The roads were littered with tail ends from the mortars that have fallen over the years and of course holes, some big some small, not a patch of road left unscarred. As with good old Shyrokyne, it’s not long before the guns ring out and the bangs start. “Welcome home,” I said to myself with a cheesy grin on my face!
The situation in Shyrokyne is a straightforward one, to be honest. After the Ukrainian Army moved into the town, the separatists had pre-made trenches on the outskirts and very well made I must say. That will come as no surprise, they have had a long time to dig in, and when they pulled out of the town, this was to lure the Army into what can be only described as an IED hell! As the Ukrainian Army moved in, the separatists shelled the town and random sporadic gunfire would rattle throughout town, this would have made the de-mining effort a real shit mission to be on and I take my hat off to these boys.
(People left in such a hurry they left everything)
After the de-mining operations were done, the army began to fortify with its own trenches on the edge of the town. They also built up positions in the first rows of houses in the rear; a few mortar teams and tanks ready to roll in should shit hit the fan. But this was a combined effort not just by the Army but the Marines and SOF elements were involved in securing this key town. As it stands today, this how the situation remains “static” no forces can really attack without the result of heavy losses.
This is down to a couple of facts, the terrain is flat with the treeline not even offering protection as are they are skinny and offer no real cover from view. The front line trench on the Ukrainian side to the separatists’, side you’re looking at 800-900 meters of flat ground, even the closest one is 500m that’s a lot of flat ground to cover. On top of this, they have mined the area on both sides and to be honest, different groups have laid minefields then don’t pass the message on, so what you have is minefields in front of positions that they themselves are not even aware of!! Then we have the same on the separatists’ side, mining areas out fear and not marking them down, it’s a real clusterfuck.
Moving on from that to artillery, even the smallest forces could be seen trying to cross from one of these points the observers would inform the mortar teams to unleash hell! They have a ton of ammo and can sustain strikes for hours at a time. Even if they didn’t kill the attacking force in the strike, they would pin them down and open up with small arms with a clear line of sight. The third problem… they don’t have the manpower on both sides to take a loss like that, it would result in complete failed attempted on both sides and just waste of bodies. With heavier artillery pieces such as GRAD (multiple launch rocket system) well within range and tank crews 10 km away if the Ukrainian army were to make a big push, it could prove to be disastrous. I also believe this to be the same along the front line. (I will cover this issue in a different article.)
(Above a typical night)
On a day-to-day in this place, it is constant shooting small arms PKMs even AKs to small artillery barrages, AGS (long-range automatic grenade launchers) and 82mm not often but 120mm is used as well. The war down here is trench warfare, small skirmishes from both sides to probe and get a response. They both spend day and night observing, looking for a small change in the day-to-day activity. Some will hope they will attack as they are fed up of the static fight, and I do believe that the Ukrainian guys want this fight to end. They don’t want to keep stepping mines all the time and dying from Artillery strikes as this is the most common way to die down here. One other factor is the OSCE (unarmed civilian monitors) in my opinion they limit the Ukrainians capabilities to make any real advancements. The guys down there want to end this war, but fear the backlash they would get from their government in Kiev if they were informed that they are not complying with the ceasefire agreements. I will write a short article about the OSCE in Ukraine for you guys to have a better understanding of what they really do down there.