Ukraine Tank Crew ‘Ready’ for Spring Offensive

Near the frontline city of Bakhmut, members of a Ukrainian tank unit say they are all set for the expected spring offensive against Russian forces in the country’s east.

Surrounded by trees on an overcast day, crew chief Oleksandr and three other soldiers use a special six-meter (20-foot) rod to clean the cannon of their T-72 tank.

While they have not fired in days, they still carry out regular maintenance on their armored vehicle to ensure they are “always ready,” the 41-year-old said.

Ukraine says that for months it has been preparing an offensive aimed at repelling Russian forces from the territory they currently hold in the east and south.

“We have to go ahead because this is our only chance to get home sooner,” said Oleksandr, out of breath after cleaning one of the tanks donated by Poland.

“Only through victory. So we’re waiting,” he added, to the sound of artillery fire and explosions in the distance.

Fifteen kilometers (nine miles) away is Bakhmut, the eastern Ukrainian town which has been at the epicenter of fighting since last summer.

‘Almost Nothing is Left’

In recent weeks, Russians from the paramilitary group Wagner and special forces from Moscow’s army have advanced into the center of the ravaged town.

Ukrainian forces now hold only a small part of western Bakhmut, with the Russian authorities claiming to control about 90 percent of the city, which had a population of 70,000 before the conflict, but has now been reduced to near ruins.

“It seems that almost nothing is left in Bakhmut that is controlled by us,” said the tank squadron’s commander, a 29-year-old also named Oleksandr.

Fellow tank commander Zaur spent five days in the city last month supporting the infantry, even though “tanks are generally not designed for urban combat.”

“The tank is a big machine. It’s difficult to turn around, to maneuver, to retreat,” he told AFP.

He said the hilly region around Bakhmut is more complicated for tanks than the vast agricultural plains of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

Analysts regularly cite those southern areas as potential backdrops to the Ukrainian forces’ spring offensive.

‘Difficult Landscape’ for Tanks

Around Bakhmut, “this is a very difficult landscape. There are valleys and ditches and very short distances to cover,” the squadron commander said.

“So it makes no sense, they (the Russians) can see us. And the visibility from our tanks is rather poor.”

To reclaim land, Ukraine said it has formed assault brigades and stocked up on ammunition – all while doing its best to spare its troops and wear out the Russians on the frontline.

It has also received battle tanks and long-range artillery from its Western allies. 

But for Ivan, a 24-year-old mechanic busy cleaning his tank machine gun, the offensive “will not change things as quickly as everyone wants.”

“For a counteroffensive, considerable forces are needed, a lot of equipment… I don’t think it will happen soon. And it won’t be so easy.” 

In the meantime, he said, “we’re servicing the machines, the weapons. We’re gathering more intelligence. And we are still waiting.”

Related Articles

Back to top button