“It’s Russian Roulette”: How the “Impregnable Fortress” Near Donetsk Is Being Broken Open

NEW – August 4, 2022

Allied troops continue to push the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Donetsk. They are advancing towards Avdeevka, which has been well fortified in eight years. Soldiers are assisted by artillery – howitzers and anti-aircraft guns. What happens in the positions is in the report of RIA Novosti.

Gods of war

One of the main features of the fighting in Ukraine is the widespread use of artillery. The “God of War” does not stop along the entire line of contact in Donbass. Long-range guns destroy warehouses, headquarters, field fortifications, military equipment, manpower. Recently, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been remotely mining Donetsk with PFM-1 mines, scattering them over the city with the help of missiles with a cluster warhead.

The calculation is simple – to demoralise and intimidate the population, as well as to force the allied forces to hurry up and make mistakes. However, the armies of Russia and the DPR act differently. As soon as the assault units meet resistance, they immediately retreat, dig in, after which a massive blow is delivered by cannon and rocket artillery. Aviation is also in support. And only after that they move forward again. This takes time but minimises losses.

Multiple launch rocket systems play a special role. This formidable area-smashing weapon, in the hands of a skilled commander, can destroy an entire military unit with one salvo. However, MLRS are very vulnerable to counter-battery fire – the place of the salvo can be seen with the naked eye for several kilometres. That’s why the Donetsk people cherish their “Grad” and “Uragan” like the apple of their eye, carefully disguise them, constantly change their positions.

“Cheer up” the infantry

The most fierce artillery duels took place near Yasinovataya. The city, a satellite of Donetsk, seems to have died out: no cars, no people. This is the nearest relatively large settlement from Avdeevka. Therefore, Ukrainian artillerymen are “piling up” here with particular bitterness.

“Arrivals” come almost daily. Windows have been shattered, and many buildings have been without electricity and water for weeks. Shops do not work, the asphalt is pitted with craters. People live exclusively on humanitarian aid.

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To the north are the positions of rocket artillery of the 1st brigade of the DPR army. On the way, the driver presses the gas pedal to the floor: Avdeevka is behind a wide field, there is a risk of coming under fire. The city can already be distinguished from here – mainly by the black columns of smoke rising above the buildings. The Ukrainian Armed Forces equipped trenches right in the middle of residential areas, hiding in the basements of houses.

“We studied drone footage and intelligence data,” says the accompanying officer of the DPR army. “It’s not possible to take Avdeevka in a hurry, the Ukrainian military literally rolled everything into concrete there. However, our gunners have already learned to lay shells very accurately. A direct hit into the dugout is quite a feasible task. And today we are going to ‘cheer up’ their infantry. Intelligence reported a large concentration of enemy manpower about ten kilometres from the front line.”

Unfamiliar “voice”

The SUV turns onto the edge of a field overgrown with grass to the waist. The car moves for several minutes, scraping its bottom along numerous mounds, and stops at an unremarkable forest plantation. We leave, look around: where is the artillery? Around – not a soul. No soldiers, no military equipment. This is what they are trying to convince the intelligence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

After a couple of minutes, they call us. Three fighters come out of the “green” and quickly remove their disguise from the 122-millimetre MLRS BM-21 “Grad”. The fourteen-ton colossus behind a camouflage net and chopped branches all this time was hiding some three metres from a group of journalists, completely invisible. From a drone or through binoculars, it is impossible to distinguish it among the trees. Donbass has not been placed in open military equipment for a long time.

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“I would like to say that Ukrainian artillerymen are useless, but I can’t,” admits the installation commander with the call sign Zakhar. “They work on us right away.”

The situation is complicated by the fact that the positions of Donetsk are constantly being hit with NATO 155-millimetre caliber. “I’m used to how Soviet shells sound. And the ‘voice’ of Western ammunition is unusual, it is unclear what is flying,” he continues. “The M777 howitzers are superior to what the DPR army has in terms of striking power, the scattering of fragments and the accuracy of fire. It’s a good thing they don’t have many of these guns. So far we are coping.”

Common cause

The calculation occupies positions inside the combat vehicle. “Grad”, roaring with a powerful engine, leaves the forest belt for 30 meters. And freezes, turning the package of tubes to the left – to Avdeevka. The commander fluently dictates the data for firing, the gunner makes corrections, adjusts vertical and horizontal angles.

The command “Salvo!” sounds — and the installation sends 16 high-explosive missile shells to the positions of the UAF with a bang. A few seconds later, the commander’s radio wheezes: “The target is hit.” The smoke does not have time to settle, as the combat vehicle takes off. This point has already been accurately “copied” by the Ukrainian radars of counter-battery warfare.

“We were hitting at a distance of about ten kilometres now, it’s very close,” explains the gunner with the call sign Lyga. “We were spotted, so we need to leave here urgently. As we say, fire was opened — and into the hole. The ‘response’ comes very quickly — five to ten minutes maximum. Once they worked out exactly where the installation was shooting from. Then it is managed to leave literally at the last moment.”

According to the military, the work of a rocket gunner is akin to playing Russian roulette. You’re lucky, you’re not lucky, you’re spotted — you’re not spotted, you’ll be hit— you’ll not be hit. At the same time, excessive haste is also strictly contraindicated. “Grad” is not the most accurate weapon and can accidentally hit friendly units, so the sight is checked very carefully. According to the standard from the MLRS, it is impossible to cover enemy positions that are closer than four kilometres from their own troops.

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“Artillery does not win wars and does not occupy cities,” says an officer with the call sign Oskar. “This is the duty and privilege of the infantry. And we work for it, helping our comrades with a ‘spark’. It depends on us whether the assault groups will meet with concentrated fire or throw out a white flag. The army is a complex mechanism in which all the details must be perfectly fitted.”

In recent days, the volleys have been getting louder – the decisive battle for Donbass has begun. In the DPR, they are waiting for a breakthrough in the defence of the UAF. They have been waiting for the last eight years.

Andrey Kots

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