28a2 Insider Jkcg Facebookjumbo.jpg

Another Winter at the Front Lines in Ukraine

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Reporting on the war in Ukraine often feels like one long camping expedition. You bundle up in warm layers and set off in the dark to get into place — embedded with a military unit, for example, somewhere along the 600-mile front line — before sunrise.

It’s been two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, and another winter at war is almost through. For soldiers, winter brings frigid conditions in the trenches. There’s less cover, since the trees are mostly bare of foliage. Ukraine’s rich, black earth is soft, and with the frequent rains, the roads and fields become a quagmire. Soldiers describe trudging through knee-deep mud and spending hours exposed to artillery fire as they tow vehicles out of the mire. As temperatures drop below freezing, the roads and tracks turn into sliding, rutted obstacle courses.

For reporters, the winter conditions add to the dangers and complications of working in a war zone. No one wants to slide into a ditch within range of Russian artillery, which sounds constantly along the front. In the cold, the batteries in tape recorders and cellphones die. I usually carry a pencil with me, since pens can freeze and stop working in the snow or rain.

I learned that while reporting in Chechnya, the rebellious republic that made a bid for independence from Russia, where I first worked for The New York Times nearly 30 years ago. I went on to cover wars and strife all over the world for the newspaper, aiming to bear witness, to see for myself what was happening and tell readers.

In December, the Ukrainian reporter Vladyslav Golovin and I arranged to visit units of the Ukrainian army’s 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade. It was a rare chance to spend the day with a battalion commander on an important part of the front in southeastern Ukraine.

A press officer asked us to be at the meeting point before dawn, so our team of drivers, reporters, a photographer and a security adviser took lodging in a nearby town. We met down a side road in the dark, the ice cracking under our car tires as we turned in.

Several soldiers stepped out of their car to greet us. This was our military escort for the first part of the drive. They could only take two people, so Vladyslav and I climbed into their vehicle and we set off along bumpy, potholed roads in the direction of the front line.

We met up with the commander on the way. We were driving fast now, turning down dirt tracks and hugging the tree lines as the sky began to lighten. The fields close to the front line were not harvested last season, and at one point we drove through thistles as tall as the car.

We stopped at one position and scurried into an underground bunker, where I interviewed two drone operators, men in their 20s, sitting in hooded sweatshirts at computers. A third member of their team was responsible for going outside to arm and launch the drones. Outside the bunker a commander of an anti-tank unit regaled us briefly about his task of defending the Ukrainian position, watching for movement of Russian tanks and armored vehicles and hitting them with anti-tank weapons when they came into range.

We drove to the next unit and gratefully accepted hot coffee and doughnuts filled with chocolate cream while soldiers described the toughest fighting they had experienced against soldiers of the Wagner group, a Russian military contractor.

The last visit of the day was to a unit fresh from training school. We watched them set up for their first attack with drones as a battle unfolded a few miles away. “Take your time,” the commander told the men calmly as they struggled to get a drone airborne. We had planned to stay for 15 minutes, but it was so gripping that we stayed more than an hour.

Then it was back in the car to head home. We arrived cold and hungry, our boots and jeans coated in mud, but safe — and with a better understanding of Ukraine’s fight on the front line.

Source link

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *