Russian soldiers grabbed Soledar last week in their first substantial success after months of retreat, while Ukrainian forces have acknowledged “moving back” from the hotly disputed town in the Donbass. However, soldiers have told the BBC that they had retreated in a deliberate and tactical action ahead of a planned counterattack.
During a fierce gun and artillery fight between Soledar and the neighboring town of Bakhmut, long bursts of automatic gunfire echoed through the drab, stubbled fields on the front line.
“It’s fairly near. 100 meters, “Andriy, a tall Ukrainian unit leader, spoke as he looked eastward, across a line of shadowy trees, and around the corner of a collapsed cottage.
What was taking place could not be accurately predicted. However, the incessant boom of rockets and artillery, along with the sound of automatic gunfire zinging overhead, hinted that Russian forces were nearby. The 46th Air Assault Brigade’s press officer, who was with us throughout our tour, claimed that the front lines were continuously moving, unpredictable, and sometimes by several kilometers each day.
Andriy admitted that the situation was difficult before slinking into a covert command bunker tucked away among the wreckage. His team had just learned in-depth details about a Russian armored personnel carrier (APC) that a Ukrainian drone had seen. A short while afterwards, a nearby piece of light artillery supplied by the UK was employed by Ukrainian forces and was pointed at the truck.
Andriy said, “We kill 50 to 100 of the enemy every day.
Some of the war’s fiercest fighting has taken place in and around Soledar. Russian forces, led by the mercenaries and ex-convicts of the Kremlin’s Wagner group, are said to have suffered heavy losses but eventually succeeded in seizing control of the small hilltop town, which is now a wasteland of flattened buildings and rubble.
Privately, some Ukrainian soldiers have admitted that Russia may now be better positioned to encircle the much larger and tactically more significant neighboring town of Bakhmut, to the south, and have blamed the loss of Soledar on a lack of coordination between various units.
However, there seems to be a calm confidence among front line soldiers in towns like Paraskoviivka, which are now within a few hundred meters from Russian fortifications. Furious Ukrainian air and artillery bombardments appear to be impeding Russian efforts to advance from Bakhmut’s northern and southern western edges.
“It’s a managed environment. I trust my commander. Sometimes it’s actually preferable to move backwards before launching a [counter]attack to annihilate the opposition. We demolish enemy fortifications every day “Andriy stated.
This week’s gray morning saw a slight thaw that transformed the snow-covered country lanes on Bakhmut’s northern edge into muddy pathways. Due to the scarcity of trees and plants during the winter, many routes are visible and cars are vulnerable to Russian artillery fire.
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A shell struck the road 300 meters behind us as we ducked behind a tiny home for protection. Our military escort reported that the battle had intensified, with rocket and artillery booms erupting every few seconds and Ukrainian ambulance sirens blaring as they rushed the injured back to a field hospital.
“We have wounds from gunshots and shrapnel. Here, the combat looks to be especially fierce. Flu and frostbite incidents are also present. People are also exhausted “said Dr. Andriy Zholob, the 46th Brigade’s medical unit’s commander. But he emphasized that military morale was still good.
“They are drained, chilly, and injured. But when may I return, Doc? they ask. They are reluctant to declare, “I’m hurt, now I can relax.” Still, their hearts are on fire. We need to get to work “Dr. Zholob stated as he watched a video of himself cleaning a soldier’s shoulder of shell fragments.
As artillery and tanks continued to pound Russian positions from cover in the fields, two Ukrainian planes blasted overhead closer to Bakhmut.