LYMAN FRONT, Ukraine: The towers of smoke rising over the verdant valley betray positions the Russians are pounding in their new thrust into eastern Ukraine. It instills far less fear in soldier Admin than a similar push into the Ukrainian town of Lyman just over a year ago. “The last month has been like one long day for us,” the 23-year-old said at a secret location near the site of Russia’s main advance of the past few weeks of war. “In terms of morale, we are hanging tough. We just want victory to come as soon as possible.” Ukraine’s ability to make an elusive breakthrough in its summer offensive partially rests on the spirits of soldiers such as Admin.
Russia assumed a new assault along a northeastern stretch of the crescent-shaped frontline a few weeks after Ukraine began its own attacks further south in early June. Moscow claimed last week to have advanced 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) closer to Lyman—a rail hub Ukraine reclaimed in October. The Russians seem intent to force the Ukrainians to abandon their advance on captured cities such as Bakhmut and redeploy troops to defend the Lyman front. Soldier Admin—a call name befitting his pudgy frame and background as an IT consultant—feels momentum is still on Ukraine’s side.
“Any war ends in negotiations, but how can you negotiate with… I won’t use the name we use for them here,” he said. “So many good young people are either wounded or no longer with us. They shell civilians, so how can you talk to them? I think they should just be destroyed.” ‘Come and die’ For Viktoria Tamosevska, Russia’s push to grab Lyman and other destroyed villages further north is filling her with hope. The 53-year-old former postal worker was selling cucumbers and parsley at a Lyman intersection where a Russian strike killed eight people two weekends ago. She fondly remembers the day the Russians first entered Lyman in the fourth month of war.
“We were waiting for them as if they were God,” she recalled in a trembling voice. “And if they enter again, they will not harm us. But the Ukrainians, they do bad things.” The Russians took Lyman after weeks of brutal battles that turned surrounding forests into rows of stumps and stalks. Many villagers who refused to flee the fighting were older Russian speakers who had no qualms about being ruled by Moscow. This meant that far from everyone welcomed back the Ukrainian troops with open arms. These tensions forced fellow vegetable vendor Volodymyr Seravatskiy to extol the virtues of Ukraine’s armed forces in hushed tones. “So what if the Russians are advancing.
They all have a death wish. They will come here and die,” he said after casting a furtive glance Tamosevska’s way. “If we had the same weapons last year as we do now, they would have never come here in the first place,” the 69-year-old former power plant worker said. ‘Little frightened kids’ Ukraine’s new stock of bigger and better Western weapons is doing little to shift the shape of the front. But it has brightened the mood of villagers who support Ukrainian soldiers and are absorbing the brunt of the new Russian assault. Factory worker Valentyna Omelchenko’s little cottage in the village of Zakitne rests well within striking distance of Russian forces about 10 kilometers to the north.
She watched a missile fly over her house a few days ago and kill a man in his late 30s. Omelchenko smiles serenely and admits to sometimes feeling almost sorry for the Russian troops. “They have no idea why they are fighting. You look at the ones we have captured, and they are just little frightened kids,” the 53-year-old said. Yulia Polyakova sounded equally untroubled as she tended her three surviving cows on the northern edge of Lyman. “We hope they won’t reach us,” the 63-year-old said of the Russians. “But we have already conquered our worst fears. Maybe it’s because we have simply grown used to it, but I don’t know, it just feels okay now.”
‘Mentally drained’ These glimmers of hope were badly missing when the Russians were mowing down entire cities while making their biggest advances in these parts of Ukraine one year ago. Ukraine’s forces themselves sound quietly confident but near exhaustion point. Captain Rys darted his tired eyes from soldier to soldier while trying to find the right words to capture the mood of his brigade. He wobbled slightly and ran his hand over his shaved head. “We are mentally drained after 17 months of war,” the captain finally said. “My memory is shot. I called my wife last night and she asked me about something we discussed the day before. I had no idea what she was talking about.” He paused to take another look at his troops. “I think we are like that,” Rys said. – AFP