Ukrainian Infantry Narrowly Escaped The Avdiivka No-Man’s-Land

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A hasty nighttime ride to the front line aboard armored vehicles. Frenzied early-morning firefights with unseen Russians. The groans of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

The clatter of an approaching Russian mechanized unit. A cacophony of heavy automatic weapons followed by a speedy daytime rescue by M-2 Bradley IFVs. A rendezvous with an ambulance.

That was the experience of a Ukrainian infantry squad in a trench fight north of Avdiivka, a key Ukrainian strongpoint in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, in the sixth week of a determined—and extraordinarily costly—effort by a Russian field army to capture Avdiivka. Or merely destroy it.

At least two soldiers from the high-tech 47th Mechanized Brigade—including a woman medic—recorded the skirmish with helmet-mounted cameras. What they saw, and experienced, is the grueling reality for thousands of Ukrainian troops as they fight to hold Avdiivka against a much larger Russian force whose commanders don’t seem to mind extreme losses in people and vehicles.

It was dark when the 47th Brigade infantry squad sped to their position, apparently in armored trucks. As gunfire thudded nearby, the disembarking infantry felt out the entrance to their cold, muddy fighting position. “Into the trench! Into the trench!” one soldier barked.

Daylight revealed how precarious the trench was for the dozen or so infantry. It was just deep enough for the soldiers to crouch in. The thin treeline that anchored the trench had been shredded by ordnance. The fields on all sides were wide open expanses of mud.

It’s clear the 47th Brigade troopers had deployed into the half-mile-wide no-man’s-land that separates Ukrainian and Russian positions just north of Avdiivka and east of the settlement of Stepove. The Russian army since early October has hurled thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks and fighting vehicles across this naked expanse—and lost many of them.

Just to reach the no-man’s-land, the Russians must run a gauntlet of Ukrainian drones and artillery. “Each column that advances along this direction is within firing range from several of our brigades,” said Arty Green, a famous Ukrainian artillery officer.

But the 47th Brigade troopers on that morning deployment didn’t seem to have much in the way of heavy fire-support. None of the brigade’s dozen or so surviving Leopard 2A6 tanks were there. If Ukrainian gunners were dialed in, their shellfire wasn’t visible or necessarily even audible. The heaviest firepower on display was the troopers’ own M-16 and AK-47 rifles plus a handheld grenade-launcher.

But the 47th Brigade troopers weren’t alone. Three of their number were wounded at some point in the fighting. The woman medic patched them up and, as Russian vehicles crawled closer, the squad leader radioed for evacuation. Two of the brigade’s American-made M-2 fighting vehicles rolled up.

The 47th Brigade is the sole user of the nearly 200 of the 40-ton, three-crew M-2s, each of which can haul eight infantry under armor and support them with its powerful 25-millimeter autocannon.

The brigade loves its M-2s. “A Bradley may be hit, but the crew survives,” said Mykola Melynk, a 47th Brigade veteran who lost a leg during a brigade assault back in June.

The IFV also is a killer. A few weeks ago, as Russian troops first crossed the railway that threads north to south through the no-man’s-land outside Avdiivka, a Ukrainian drone observed an M-2 standing nearby, chewing up the attacking Russians with its 25-millimeter cannon.

But the Bradleys didn’t come to fight on the day of the 47th Brigade troopers’ skirmish. They laid down suppressive fire, popped smoke and dropped their rear ramps. The troopers scurried up the ramps with their wounded, a few of them shooting as they ran.

Retreating back through the main Ukrainian line, the 47th Brigade troopers piled out of their M-2s. An ambulance was waiting for the wounded. The unwounded hugged it out, or collapsed onto the cold ground in shock and relief. Surely aware they soon would be back in the trenches.

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