War in Ukraine | Bruised and exhausted, the men of the 81st Brigade return from the Eastern Front

(Sviatoguirsk) A Kamaz rushes back to the front at full speed, laden with a compact mound of exhausted soldiers with straight faces. These men from the 81and The Ukrainian brigade has just been ordered to withdraw from the eastern front, where Russian troops are advancing.

Posted at 7:36

Daphne Rousseau
Media agency France

The section marched 12 kilometers on Saturday, camouflaged in the woods, under cross artillery fire, to the extraction point in Sviatoguirsk.

For a month, the “81and – motto: “always first” – took part in the counter-offensive, trying to slow down the Russian advance on this front of Ukraine’s Donbass, where Moscow’s troops are nibbling village after village.

“Everyone understands that we have to hold the line here, we can’t let the enemy get closer, we try to hold on with all our strength,” explains their lieutenant, Yevguen Samoilov, nervous as the unit, exposed to bombardment, could be the target of Russian fire at any time.

“As you can hear, the enemy is very, very close,” the lieutenant said, pointing to the sky. The row of Russian tanks is on the other side of the hill, about 7 kilometers away.

At 21, this officer of the Odessa Military Academy leads 130 conscripts, often twice his age.

“It’s my first war, I was supposed to graduate in 4 months, but they sent me here,” the young officer almost apologizes.

Samoilov, nom de guerre “Samson”, the short black beard and the face of an adolescent, does not leave his red notebook. There where he notes all movements, but also all requests and remarks of his men to whom he always addresses in a soft voice.

dead quiet

The paratroopers section was mobilized by Moscow on February 23, the day before the war broke out.

At the start of the war, she spent over a month defending Izioum, which fell on 1er April, before dropping out to take part in the fighting around the village of Oleksandrivka.

“Very hard fighting,” said Lieutenant Samoilov in silence.

In this brigade, as in the others, the toll of the losses is not quantified. The view becomes cloudy, sometimes foggy and we move on to the next question.

A deathly silence reigns in the military truck during the hour drive to the back building, where they have to park their week-long rest period.

When the convoy on the deserted main road crosses a truckload of ammunition, long-range missiles rushing to the front, the soldiers reflexively make the V for victory with their fingers before fixing their feet again or the horizon in silence.

Arriving at the base, it’s time to unload his weapon, take out his package and immediately slip into one of the building’s rooms, a ruin with no electricity where a medical exam awaits them after returning from the mission.

For these survivors of operational battles, “there are minor forehead injuries, fractures for those buried under the rubble during a bombing raid and linked to shrapnel,” said Vadym Kyrylov, 25, the brigade doctor sent to meet them.

“But we mainly see somatic problems, such as high blood pressure and exacerbated chronic diseases,” he adds.

“Trench Foot”

Men also suffer greatly from “trench foot” syndrome, these minor injuries associated with prolonged exposure to humidity, unsanitary conditions and cold.

“They couldn’t dry their shoes for a month […] so there are a lot of foot injuries, especially fungi and infections,” says the doctor.

After the medical visit, everyone has the same reflex: isolate themselves and reconnect the phone to call a woman, a child or a relative.

On the front, the use of the phone, in particular any application that requires geolocation, is prohibited.

Four soldiers pull up rusty metal bed frames, sweeping the floor from the mounds of dust to make a room, amid tags and their gear.

“It’s time for the boys to rest, heal physical, moral and psychological wounds, regain their strength before returning to battle,” explains Samson.

“They sleep warm, eat normal food, and more or less try to come back to life.”

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