The squad to which Viteli belongs is taking a break. They drove a couple of miles in their truck to drink coffee and smoke a cigarette. It was an intense night. Russian forces have been trying for days to advance towards the last redoubts in the Luhansk region controlled by Ukrainian forces; The battle gets tighter every day. The Moscow army is constantly firing artillery, bombing from aircraft and constructing temporary pontoons at night to cross the Seversky Donetsk River in the area of Belogorovka, which has become the center of fighting in recent days.
Some Ukrainian military assure that the city was practically burned down as a result of the skirmish. Ukrainians and Russians drop artillery from their positions, and aviation is reinforced by bombardments. The fate of at least 60 people who took refuge in the basement of the school a week ago is still unclear. A bomb dropped by Russian aircraft would have depleted the oxygen inside the shelter, resulting in the deaths of those hiding there, according to Shama, a veteran military doctor working on the front. President Volodymyr Zelensky assured they were dead, but no rescue mission was able to advance the excavation due to fighting.
Viteli’s mobile photographs confirm what is happening in the vicinity of Belogorovka. It shows how several Russian tanks managed to cross over to the Ukrainian side, as well as how two enemy bridges were destroyed. “Here is a tank that has just sunk,” he ironically, showing one of the videos stored on his device, which shows a submerged battle tank in the water. The specific job of this 26-year-old man, tall and with a blond beard, is to operate drones, with which they monitor the actions of the enemy.
He has been fighting since 2014, especially in this region of Donbass. When there were battles for Lugansk, its part was near Kharkov, and they were quickly transferred to this area. As happened with the hundreds of soldiers who arrived in the east of the country in recent days. The same goes for weapons. On Thursday, more than a dozen tanks and heavy artillery were deployed to this sector. Sham’s doctor says that these new weapons, supplied by the West, allow better aiming and attacking the enemy from a greater distance, but the Ukrainians continue to lose in the sky.
This war is also a war of drones. The Russians constantly use them to identify Ukrainian positions and target their artillery.
“We need them to close the sky for a few days to stop them and move forward,” the soldier says.
“Many of these tanks that crossed have already been destroyed, but the fighting is intense,” Witeli says, pointing to a convoy of at least six armored vehicles near the river. A few days before, some Ukrainian soldiers were talking about 80 Russian soldiers crossing the border. The seriousness of his unit commander, who avoids any contact with foreigners, is a sign that the situation is not easy. On Thursday evening, additional roadblocks were set up on the road leading from Bymouth into the interior of the province.
In a matter of hours, security measures were tightened, control became stricter, and the few cars that managed to be evacuated from nearby cities arrived with broken windows and shrapnel holes in the body. “We need them to close the sky for a few days to stop them and move forward,” says one of the soldiers who came from the front. By the time we found him, he and a dozen other men had retreated several kilometers to escape Russian attacks on the road. The main task of the Moscow army is to take control of this small strip of asphalt, extending deep into the province between green fields on which crops of wheat and corn grow. If they succeed, they will block access to the cities of Lysychanka and Severodonetsk, the largest city in the Lugansk region, which is practically under siege.
The Russians will seek to create a corridor connecting the troops stationed near Belogorovka with those who have taken control of Popasna, which has been under Russian control since the beginning of the week. Yesterday morning, the commander of the region prevented the passage to nearby settlements, some of them were destroyed. Planes circled over this place all night; alarms sounded. “It’s not good to cross,” said a soldier who was resting with her unit in an open field with a frightened expression on her face.
The Russians are laying pontoons on the river, the center of the fighting in recent days, but two of them have been destroyed.
If the Russians manage to unite these two fronts, they will completely separate the Lugansk region. And this will also clear the way for the besieged Lisichansk, but especially Severodonetsk. Even when we visited them last week, life in these cities was “hell,” according to some residents, who remain despite relentless attacks, lack of basic services such as water or electricity, and starvation. The kitchens of the houses are taken out to the street, where they cook on homemade wood-burning stoves.
Attacks on the highway make it difficult to access the two cities, which are seven kilometers apart. Andrei, an aid worker who comes to the city for food, says access to at least 15% of the city has already been lost. His parents, who have decided to stay, live in a sector where he can no longer go.
Severodonetsk was already contested during the war that started in 2014 and was recaptured by the Ukrainians. Viteli assures that this may happen again, as it has already happened in Kyiv or Kharkov. “The difference from 2014 is that the planes are now deployed and attacking with more intensity,” Witeli says before returning to the position from which he flies his drone.
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