- Quentin Somerville
- BBC, Izyum neighborhood
Sergei drove the car like crazy. Before a laconic Ukrainian, he was a lawyer. Now he was driving a Mitsubishi pickup truck speeding along a dirt road at a speed of 100 km/h.
There are three of us in the back seat, no seat belts. Ahead is the destination, and it is constantly bombarded by Russian artillery.
The car swerved to avoid a projectile stuck in the ground. “Cluster bomb,” Sergei said. It sounded like a warning: don’t go any further.
“Do you want to see the village or our bunker first?” he clarified as the green pickup truck strayed. “Bunker,” the cameraman Darren Conway and I answered in unison.
Because of the war unleashed by Vladimir Putin on the eastern front, Ukraine has turned day into night, and people are forced to go underground. The purpose of our trip is a village near the city of Izyum, where Russian forces are concentrated. By the time we turned into the cool darkness of the shelter, the artillery barrage was already dying down.
Having failed to capture the entire country, Russia decided to capture Ukraine piecemeal. The people in the bunker – and there are many of them – are doing everything to keep this out. Raisins are in the hands of the Russians, they call it the gate to the Donbass. During the celebration of Victory Day in Russia on May 9, the Russian occupiers of the city ordered live.
Bare light bulbs cover a dark space in a bunker – a new area for a group of volunteer fighters who are part of the territorial territory of Ukraine.
The situation in the bunker was quite similar to past wars – except for modern technology. The on-screen TV broadcast the image from the cameras aimed at the Russian position. “A gift from our friends,” one of the commanders told me: the cameras were sent by one of the Western countries.
The fighters sat and browsed Instagram and Facebook, texting their wives and mistresses. Troops on the front line are ready even tomorrow to declare Elon Musk a hero of Ukraine – his Starlink satellite network provides the military with free Internet access.
Outside, the shelling resumed, powerful enough to make the cobwebs on the ceiling dance. “The Russians are out of smoke,” said the fighter, getting up from his army bunk.
It was time for us to move on. We had to accompany the foot patrol, part of the route which passed through the open countryside, to the first line of defense. Outside, all was quiet. Then gunfire was heard somewhere.
“Don’t bunch up,” they remarked to us when we filed through the ruined village. Of course, under fire, you instinctively want to stay close to a friend, but a tight group is an excellent target.
The shelling resumed. One shell hung overhead and exploded quite recently. Then a Russian tank fired, and added mortar fire. The fighters who led us moved through the backyards and gardens, avoiding the roads and trying to stay out of sight of the correct drones.
I ducked as another shell hung overhead and exploded 300 meters away from me. “If you hear, it’s not yours,” said Yuri, who accompanied us. Kill the tackle, can’t you hear. This is the third time in this war that someone has made this gloomy joke in my presence.
The fighters moved on, and we approached our destination. It’s much further than we thought. Soldiers dined inside, not reacting in any way to the discovery of explosions.
“God save the Queen,” Yuri said, pointing to an anti-tank grenade launcher sent by the British. “Thank you Mr. Johnson, but we need more,” he said with a laugh. I thought that people really needed armored vehicles: I had not seen them all day at the front.
We waited out another shelling. Isn’t it time for the Russians to smoke again?
Then we set off again along the nearest funnels, inhaling the smell of gunpowder and smoke. The land was littered with social movement.
We passed cowsheds, from which cows were warily looking out, paddocks with ragged sheep – the fleeing villagers did not have time to save their cattle. But then a red-haired woman came out of a house, apparently to see what all this commotion was about.
Natasha cried. She told us that she could not lose her village because her husband was buried here. He says it would be a betrayal.
The shelling suddenly intensified, the patrol was delayed, and even Natasha ducked down. “Boys want borscht?” she is indicated. Instead, we took refuge in her cellar in the garden, where jars of pickles were stored on wooden shelves.
Finally, the sounds of volleys of Ukrainian artillery were heard. Ukrainian shells flew over Natasha’s house, heading towards their internal loads. We decided that this was a signal for us: it’s time to go. Natasha still didn’t want to leave. She has a portrait of her husband on the wall in her living room. Military promises then send to someone for her.
Returning to the operational headquarters, the fighters crowded outside the screen. Twenty Russian infantry, supported by mortars, detect attacks on the village. Ukrainian guns did not cover them, but the Russians failed to break through either. The fighters surrounding us again fulfilled their duty. The gates of Donbass remained locked.
Reflection in the north of Ukraine forced to focus on Izyum, where the headquarters of the command of the Russian troops is located, and on the Donbass as a whole. But even accidentally finding itself only in research, the Russian army is hardly moving forward.
The day, however, is not yet over. The Russians continued shelling, and we still had to return to our base according to the scenario and the roads being shot through. It was already evening when Sergey returned for us in his green pickup truck. Perhaps he was in a good mood, or maybe it was front-line humor – but he sang “God Save the Queen.”
Before this event arrived, I met an American veteran journalist who had been in the same part of the front. “You will pray on the way there and on the way back,” she said. While I was scrolling through the “Our Father” in my head, we accelerated through the fields and crashed into something hard on the road.
Fortunately, the Russian industry, which fell into the mud, did not explode – for the second time in its short life.
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