DONETSK, Ukraine—The wrath of Russia’s army is on full display in Bakhmut, with the majority of surviving civilians having fled the ongoing bloodbath while Ukrainian soldiers fight to save the city. Now that Vladimir Putin’s forces are closing in, those who have been pulled out fear what is at stake for their fellow soldiers.
One soldier, who goes by the name “Detcom,” spoke with The Daily Beast hours just after leaving the terrorized Bakhmut after a month of fighting.
Detcom is in the 206th battalion of the 241st brigade of Ukraine’s territorial defense. Throughout January, he had been stationed in the city of Vovchansk, just under six miles from the Belograd Russian border, working to secure any advances from the enemy country. On Jan. 25, the daunting news came: they were being sent to Bakhmut.
“We were supposed to go to the village of Krasna Hora, [North]. But…. while we moved, new orders came in, so commandment of the [higher] brigade designated us to work on that piece of land covering the main road from Soledar to Bakhmut,” said Detcom.
The first two weeks were easier for Detcom’s brigade, they held back Russian infantry with ease. “It was pretty easy. It's true what they say in the news. These new Russian mobilized soldiers, badly trained, badly equipped, and they were sending them towards us, like just waves of meat,” he said. “This was for the first two weeks. After that they started using artillery and tanks. This is the place where it got ugly.”
The 241st brigade only had grenade launchers and mortars, nowhere near the caliber of weapons to match the Russian’s artillery and tanks. Though they successfully held the lines at times, Russian soldiers made advances. “They just pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed with tanks and all that stuff,” said Detcom.
Detcom’s fellow soldiers hid in the trenches and covered themselves as Russian troops fired above. Though they survived, the attack left Detcom and five others shell-shocked, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It then became harder to fight off the enemy forces. “They have a load of ammo for artillery from the Cold War era,” he said. “They don't count the shells. [But] high brigades use western weaponry, high precision weaponry, and it costs a lot so they don't fire just to fire.”
The situation in Bakhmut became so severe for Detcom’s unit that he was ordered to drive to Kyiv to look for a new car for them. While he was there, he went to visit a medic who was admitted into the military hospital—and found out that men he knew had died in Bakhmut.
“He told me two guys died,” said Detcom. “The next morning I got a message—a drone pilot was killed.” Then, on his way back on Feb. 16, Detcom “got the message that the head sergeant of my platoon was killed by a direct hit in a dugout.”
Reflecting on the emotional toll of losing his higher up, Detcom said that he “started the whole thing with this guy. His name was Maxim, and we met on Feb. 24, a year ago. We had our first assignment, and later we were in one platoon. Recently he got promoted to sergeant of my platoon… that's kinda hard.”
The men who fought alongside Detcom over the past year are more than just his co-workers, and the loss of even a single soldier is a huge blow.
“We tied up together, we become friends, you know each other,” says Detcom.
So far, Detocm’s unit has lost just six soldiers—four in Bakhmut, and two over the summer in Kherson, which was liberated from Russian occupation in November.
“It’s only six deaths, but we have a lot of wounded people, and shell shocked. My squad commander, my gun machine gunner, and my driver from my squad, and another gunner, four guys all wounded in hospital because of debris from shells,” he said.
When asked about the future of Bakhmut, Detcom said that in the “bigger perspective, like in the next few months, if nothing will change in our tactics… they will eventually just overwhelm us because they have a shitload of ammo for artillery, and they have enough manpower just to send us towards our position as meat waves.”