The reporter of “Dumska” spent a week at the frontline with the 28th Guards Mechanized brigade
Running, only running. By fits and starts. The heart is pounding as an insane steam engine; a cold dribble of sweat is slowly running between the shoulder blades. My tasks are not to lag behind and not to lose the path. I have to move accurately step in step after the commander of the reconnaissance group with a codename Buna. Buna, whose real name is Serhii, goes in the forefront. The distance between the participants of the recon group is five to ten meters. The scout, closing the group is Ruslan from Kirovohrad. His codename is Rul. Rul runs half-turned, controlling the left sector and the rear of the group. During the stops, he turns round, stands on his knee, puts the assault rifle to the shoulder and aims back and aside.
A hardly noticeable steam rises from the Buna's back. It is possible to move through the "grey" area only with interruptions: fifteen meters running, then a stop for a minute or two, after that, there's another sprint. The scouts are armed and carry military supplies with a lot of necessary at war things. From the numerous pockets of military vests, there are magazines for AK rifles, VOG grenades – miniature underbarrel grenade launchers, “dymy” – smoke boxes for making smoke screen. The must-have attribute of the scout – a knife – is also present. The closing of the group has a knife that in its size reminds a gigantic broad hatchet of Crocodile Dundee from a film. Rul treats his blade gently, as if it were alive: the former brigade commander granted him the knife in “Shyrlan” (“Shyrokyi Lan” – training field in Mykolaiv oblast), when the scout had been the first to have passed the most difficult exam for the crimson beret.
After the discharge from the army, Rul is going to place his blade in a special drawer under the glass as a “lesson for the descendants”, – the scout jokes. But despite the variety of things the scouts have on them, the equipment is perfectly adjusted, in order not to reveal the warriors by any sound.
The first aid kit with everything necessary is in a separate pocket section. The “sharp end” or “zero”, as the warriors call the frontline, is a place where, in every second, can happen everything possible – from a sudden bullet hit of a sniper to an explosion of trip wires with F-1 grenade or antipersonnel mine. There are so many such vile presents all over there, that it will be enough for other generations to unmine them after the war! Besides, armor vests are out of favor. The scouts try to “forget” the defence for patrolling and sortie under any possible pretence: heavy vests don't allow them to move quickly. Speed, secrecy and silence are the main aces of our reconnaissance.
But now, along with the recon group, we are, better to say, at “minus”, than at “zero”. It is a neutral line, the so-called “grey” area – the territory between our strongholds and trenches of the combatants. At any minute, you may meet face-to-face with the scouts or saboteurs from the “other” side; and you shouldn’t expect that separatists sit peacefully at their positions. “There”, you can meet the same reckless warriors. But the values in their heads are just the opposite.
“The neutral” zone near the stronghold of the 28th brigade scouts is a territory of several squared kilometers on the outskirts of Stanytsia Luhanska. There are several old houses in front of the stronghold, further – there is a thin wood line with black stumps of trees and bushes chopped by splinters. The dull landscape reminds a screenshot from “Stalker” computer game. A greater part of houses are abandoned and destroyed. Not so long ago, shells and bombs blew up here day-and-night. But in some buildings, there still live people: as a rule, old people, who have nowhere to go, stay at the field of fire at their own risk and peril. At the other side of the wood line, there is a railway embankment, further – there is the Siverskii Donets River, which divides the positions of separatists and the Ukrainian Army. De jure, the territory controlled by the Ukrainian Army is to the riverside. De facto, it is still a neutral zone; the strongholds are a little bit further. The railway goes to the bridge. The last train was here more than a year ago…
On the “other” side, you can see a building of the rayon council with two flags, the Russian one and the flag of “LNR”. According to the words of soldiers, Cossacks held positions there, but a month ago, “reservists” from the so-called homeguard of “LNR” changed them. Nearby, there is a training field, where separatists try new military equipment under the command of specialists from Russia. Saboteurs are also trained there. From time to time, one can hear bangs from sniper rifles. The distance between Ukrainians and militants is not bigger than 1700 meters, which is just suitable for a qualified sniper.
The scouts try not to use radio communication without any urgency, and prefer to communicate by gestures. Any sound can reveal the place where the recon group is. Instead of a walkie-talkie, the reconnaissance men like the sign language which is rather rich. By hands, you can show everything you need to command the group in the reconnaissance raid.
Before the next stop, Buna raises hand with the palm up – it means "attention", then he turns his palm down, which means – lay down. On the silent command, we immediately fall down: it is very dangerous to appear in the sniper sight. A big advantage is to find any possible shelter. But if you have an open position, it is a disadvantage and a threat not only for a person, but for the whole group.
By the hand, Buna shows that we can move further. There is a railway embankment and a lonely lineman booth. Nearby, there are several rusting coal cars. Buna gives me a sign, showing where I can lay down to make some photos of the “other” side – under the wheels of the platforms. Having reached the embankment, I quickly dive under the car and aim my objective to “Ihoriosha”, as the scouts call the monument to Prince Ihor, which is a noticeable landmark on the separatist’s side. I can hear black greasy hard stones and splinters of glass crunch under my elbow.
The lineman booth is in the “blacklist” of the scouts. The warriors have recently found the position of the separatists’ sniper here, equipped for a long-lasting ambush. There was a mattress, several shells, something like breastwork from some rubbish for a rifle and fragments of camouflaged rags for masking. In the booth, one could see signs of bullets on the walls: a lonely booth and cars are a “tasty” landmark for ranging fire of machine-gunners and snipers from both sides. We descend from the embankment as if we were sliding – there was a heavy frost on the eve of that day, and the land was covered with an icy crust.
Having passed about several hundred meters through the neutral line, we come back. The farther we are from the “zero”, the lower the tension becomes – we are covered by the ruins, and it is harder for snipers to reach us.
The scouts at home
The stronghold of scouts is a half-ruined uninhabited warehouse with the blocked windows and exits. Nearby, there are rusty rests of the burned passenger cars. Not a single man can be seen in the streets. It is said, that even mice and rats left the buildings after shooting attacks. There are no cats. There are only dogs left, which go from yard to yard in search of food.
The time goes quicker at the frontline. It seems that even the sun sets down on the wrong schedule here – it gets dark several hours earlier, than in the rear. For the night, the scouts lay mines under all exits of the buildings. If someone wants to go to the toilet, the warriors have to unmine the doors. At night, the warriors go out only by two – when one is in the “booth”, the other guards him with arms. The stronghold is divided in two parts. The roof and the attic, from where soldiers observe the “zero” with the help of infrared thermal camera and binocular glasses, and the back part of the house intended for rest. The warriors go to the combat duty for four days, changing each other on a shift basis near the improvised loopholes – windows.
There is a draft from the broken windows. The piercing wind howls, frost chills to the marrow. Sometimes, birds come to warm up to the broken windows – loopholes. An unused person will not be able to stay here for more than an hour – pneumonia is guaranteed. But the warriors with arms ready to fire guard for two hours and do not fall ill. They joke that virus won't affect another virus.
It is a little bit warmer in the inhabited part of the stronghold. Homemade stove from the wire box and electric spiral keeps the temperature of a bit higher than 10 degrees above zero. They cook on the electric boiling ring; at the back of it, there are dozens of canned food. They do not starve at the stronghold. But, of course, there is only the necessary – canned meat, tea, bread. The scouts even treated me with a fresh roast meat from the elsewhere obtained chicken.
Between the duties and raids to the “zero”, the scouts drink strong tea, which is more like chifir (extremely strong tea). The majority of the warriors from Buna’s unit are young, aged from 20 to 27 years old. Almost all reconnaissance men “conscripted themselves personally” – they voluntarily came to the military enlistment office and were mobilized to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. All the boys came from different regions of Ukraine, but despite that, they have something in common – one can see the same hooligan, daring sparks in their eyes. The movements of the reconnaissance men remind the movements of a tiger, they are similarly precise and curt. They are mean for superfluous words. But it seems, that they are able to break out a burst of energy at any minute.
Junior Sergeant Buna is from Izium. His wife and a child stayed at home. An interesting fact is that even before Serhii was conscripted, he became a witness of occupation of Sloviansk by Hirkin-Strelkov detachment.
“I worked as a guard on the enterprise in Sloviansk. When strilkivtsi came to the town, no one believed that it happened in real life, and nobody thought that the real war would start from the most peaceful town. When we drove for work, strilkivtsi stopped our bus and threatened to shoot dead. They thought we were military men, because we wore military uniform”, – Serhii remembers.
In the corner curtained by blankets, there are two-storey narrow board beds, where the warriors sleep dressed – at any moment, the scouts have to be ready to take the battle. Only a pile of reefing jackets and blankets can save from cold. Only MTS mobile operator works here, Kyivstar turns on very rarely. In the deep night, I climb to the second deck of the bed – I can't be awake twenty-four hours a day, unlike the scouts. Through sleep, I hear that one of the soldiers monotonously quarrels with his wife by the phone:
“Did you want a prince on a white horse? So I do not have any white horse. I have a submachine gun. And I am not a prince, I am a warrior. What? You are lonely and bored? Go to the cinema. If you can’t wait, then do not wait for me.”
In case of announcement of the zero hour, the scouts have weapons and ammunition enough for several days – machine-gun positions are equipped and camouflaged, according to all the rules of military science. And the soldiers are the real “present” for the separatists, as they have been fighting for a long time already. Many of them participated in the battles near Mariinka.
The warriors joke about the present state of affairs: there is no war, no peace – there are “Minsk agreements”!
“But you may easily become dead during this “armistice”. Such a strange war it is”, – shrugs his shoulders a young scout from Odessa with the codename Dovhyi.
“We can accept the battle. But it is denied to shoot. Certainly, we still adhere to Minsk agreements! According to the instructions, in case of separatists attack, we have to barricade ourselves, report to the command and withdraw from the loopholes to the inward of the building. Then, we’ll have to wait for the order – the commanders will decide, whether we will be allowed to fire back or not…, – complains Buna. Even in the neutral zone, if you see a separatist subversive reconnaissance group, first of all, you have to report, and then wait for the order to open fire. Every night, snipers shoot in our side”.
Buna’s words were confirmed at night – the silence was suddenly interrupted by a roar from “that” side and a long machine-gun burst followed. After the machine-gun turn, there came submachine-gun shots.
– Center, we frightened away a subversive reconnaissance group, 45 degrees from us. Separatists opened fire, but not targetedly. We had to fire back, everything is OK, we come back, – Buna’s voice is mumbling from the radio station in the living part of the stronghold.
– Plus, plus! – hoarsely answers the voice of Skai – commander of the recon company, the 28th brigade.
After return of Buna and Rul from the raid, we found out that separatists were very close to the positions where we had been today.
“Most probably, separatists saw our today’s sortie. And they decided to find out what it had been for. Besides, they noticed your optics, the camera lens, when you made photos of their positions”, – explains Buna the reasons of separatists activity.
Early in the morning, sliding from the upper bunk of the bed, I meet my companions without any noticeable signs of fatigue or drowsiness. The only conveniences the scouts have are a mug of ice water. To wash, you need to go to the abandoned part of the building. On the walls, one can see pre-war posters and charters. I read one mechanically. Only a while after, I remembered the text on a white and blue “regional” shield: “The diagram of development of Stanytsia-Luhansk rayon till 2020. Party of the Regions".
After the night at the stronghold, the recon company’s half-broken jeep with bald tires comes for us. On a frozen road, the young driver manages not to drive off the route and even tries to slow down on deserted crossroads. But the soldier uses gears, instead of brakes: there are no brakes in the broken car.
“Don’t be afraid, we won’t crash down! I have already got used to this car. There are no brakes for a long time, we have no repair pieces. “Spartany” don’t supply anything here, they give it to the National Guards to show off. But we don’t take the offence! Someone has to fight, and someone has to flaunt for cameras”, – comments the serviceman philosophically.
Author: Oleksandr Sybirtsev