with the men of the 81st Brigade, who had returned bruised and exhausted from the Eastern Front

with the men of the 81st Brigade, who had returned bruised and exhausted from the Eastern Front

The section marched 12 kilometers on Saturday, camouflaged in the woods, under cross artillery fire, to its extraction point in Sviatoguirsk. For a month, the “81st” – motto: “always first” – took part in the counter-offensive and tried to slow down the Russian advance on this front of the Ukrainian Donbass, where the troops from Moscow are nibbling ground, village after town.

“Everyone understands that we have to keep the line here, we can’t let the enemy get closer, we are trying to hold on with all our strength,” explains their lieutenant, Yevguen Samoilov, nervous as the unit, exposed under bombardment, can be targeted by Russian fire at any time.

“As you can hear, the enemy is very, very close,” the lieutenant said, pointing up at the sky. The Russian tank line is on the other side of the hill, about 7 kilometers away. At 21, this officer from the Odessa Military Academy finds himself leading 130 conscripts, often twice his age.

“It’s my first war, I was supposed to receive my diploma in 4 months, but they sent me here”, almost apologizes the young officer.

Samoilov, nom de guerre “Samson”, the short black beard and the face of an adolescent, does not leave his red notebook. There where he notes all the movements, but also all the requests and remarks of his men to whom he always addresses himself in a soft voice.

dead silence

The section of parachute soldiers was mobilized on February 23, the day before the outbreak of war by Moscow. At the start of the war, she spent more than a month defending Izium, which fell on April 1, before dropping out to join the fighting around the village of Oleksandrivka. “Very tough fights,” said Lieutenant Samoilov, quietly.

In this brigade, as in the others, the toll of losses is not quantified. The gaze becomes cloudy, sometimes foggy and we move on to the next question.

A dead silence reigns in the military truck during the hour drive to the rear building, where they are to park for their week-long rest period. When the convoy crosses on the deserted main road a truck loaded with ammunition, long-range missiles, which rushes towards the front, the soldiers reflexively make the V for victory with their fingers before fixing their feet again or the horizon in silence.

Arrived at the base, it’s time to unload his weapon, extract his package and immediately slip into one of the rooms of the building, a ruin without electricity where a medical examination awaits them after returning from the mission.

For these operational combat survivors, “there are small forehead injuries, fractures for those who were buried under rubble during a bombardment and those related to shrapnel (shrapnel),” says Vadym Kyrylov, 25. , the brigade doctor sent to meet them.

“But we mainly see somatic problems, such as hypertension and exacerbated chronic diseases,” he adds.

“Trench Foot”

Men also massively suffer from “trench foot” syndrome, these minor injuries linked to prolonged exposure to humidity, unsanitary conditions and cold. “For a month they couldn’t dry their shoes […] so there are a lot of foot injuries, mostly fungus and infections,” says the doctor.

After the medical visit, everyone has the same reflex: isolate themselves and reconnect their telephone to call a woman, a child or a relative. On the front, the use of the telephone, in particular any application requiring geolocation, is prohibited.

Four soldiers pull up rusty metal bed frames, sweep the floor of the heaps of dust to make a semblance of a room, in the middle of tags and their gear.