Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas: “Russians are like zombies”

Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass
“Russians are like zombies”

Cold, disease and death lurk on the front in Donbas. The morale of Ukrainian fighters is high. But winter is getting harder for them: “The soldiers’ boots are always wet, they only sleep very sporadically.”

Winter hasn’t started yet, but the wet and cold is already affecting Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. “We literally live in a swamp,” says a 30-year-old man who calls himself Kit during the war. “When I went to the hospital yesterday I looked like a big pile of mud. More and more soldiers are sick, many suffering from so-called trench foot, the dreaded foot infection.

Ukrainian tanker – the noise of the battle on the front is deafening.

(Photo: picture alliance / AA)

“Soldiers’ hours are constantly wet, they only sleep very sporadically,” says a 24-year-old youth nicknamed Taller, who is fighting with a special unit in the Donbass. If the feet are stuck in wet shoes for too long and are strained at the same time, they become inflamed. Untreated trench foot, which soldiers suffered en masse in World War I, can even be fatal. “Infantry is the heart of any army and suffers a lot,” says Taller.

Since the withdrawal of the Russian army from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson earlier this month, Donbass in the east of the country has been the main scene of fighting. Adverse weather conditions did not prevent the Russian troops from attacking. “The Russians are like zombies. You shoot them and more and more come,” says Kit.

To prepare Ukrainian soldiers for the winter, volunteers set up large camps near the front with donated humanitarian supplies. “Warm clothes are in high demand, as well as long underwear, flu medicine, medicinal teas and pain ointments,” says Slava Kovalenko, who works at one of these warehouses in the city of Sloviansk. “Everybody who comes here asks that. He gives away thousands of kilos of clothes, medicine, candles and canned goods every week, Kowalenko says.

“Maybe we’ll freeze to death”

On the outskirts of Bakhmut, a front can be seen: rows of Ukrainian guns and tanks line the brown landscape. The noise of battle is deafening. A soldier watches the action from a hill and smokes. “We are preparing for a counteroffensive,” says the man with the fighting name Rambo. “We have reinforced our troops in this area,” says another soldier nicknamed IT Guy. “Our morale is very high,” he says.

Amid mounting casualties in the fighting, the Kremlin has redoubled its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, destroying power plants with drones and cruise missiles. The power goes out more and more often. Hospitals near the front lines rely on generators to feed soldiers and civilians.

“The way they fight and attack civilian infrastructure can only infuriate,” says Oleksiy Yakovlenko of Kramatorsk hospital administration. Still, giving up is out of the question for him. “If they expect us to get down on our knees and crawl to them – that’s not going to happen.”

The block of flats in Lyman, 40 kilometers away, have had no electricity or gas since spring. The city is in ruins. The few remaining residents are too poor or too old to leave. They depend on the support of aid organizations, only those who have wood can cook. “I don’t know how we will survive the winter,” says 62-year-old Taťána Kutepová. “Maybe we’ll freeze to death and then be taken to our graveyard.”

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