Ukraine’s east offensive: An exclusive
Ukrainian soldiers huddle around a drone controller in the dark, their faces illuminated only by the screen.
The other one says, “There’s something burning.”. A bomb has just been dropped on a Russian target.
In an exclusive CNN interview, CNN obtained exclusive access to the night-time assault that is part of a coordinated Ukrainian offensive push near the beleaguered eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
One of the drone pilots, who goes by the call sign “Groove,” says they will be hitting the enemy’s first line.
Kyiv’s ground attack aircraft are not designed to combat the dark, which is why this drone unit nicknamed “Code 9.2” is stepping up. Ukrainian ground troops have Western night-vision equipment and have an advantage during nighttime operations.
“Drones see like they do during the day,” Groove explains. The infantry is seen, vehicles are hit, cannons are destroyed, everything we need to destroy is destroyed.”
They are using Ukrainian-made ‘Vampire’ unmanned aerial vehicles, a hexacopter procured by the government in Kyiv, as part of a program led by the Ministry for Digital Transformation to supply Ukrainian forces with technology.
The drones are equipped with thermal imagers, so they can operate at night effectively. In a Telegram video last August, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, announced 270 of these machines would be sent to the front lines.
In addition to destroying armored cars and tanks, they will destroy enemy defense structures, fortifications, and ammunition depots.
Groove and his unit have been doing just that.
According to CNN, the drones dropped bombs on several Russian armored vehicles using their night-vision cameras. One of the more advanced and newer models Russia is fielding in Ukraine is a Russian T-90 tank that was destroyed in a recent attack.
Trying to spot Russian forces with his drone, Groove says, “sometimes there are a lot of them.” A few Russian vehicles are chased, and bombs are dropped on them as they go.
“We don’t see many at the moment. “There was some vehicle there, but we didn’t hit it,” he says.
Drone attacks pick up pace as other units join the battlefield: US-donated cluster munitions are hurled at the moonlit Russian positions by powerful artillery.
Multiple rocket launchers shoot rapid hissing projectiles into the sky, mortars engage the Russian armies with flares, and infantry fighting vehicles race to the front to storm them.
It’s a comprehensive assault, and Code 9.2 commander Flint says the operation has been planned for weeks.
As his men prepare the ammunition they will drop on Russian positions, he says, “We have been setting it up for more than a month.”.
“This is a combined attack,” he adds, explaining the push south of Bakhmut builds on recent gains in the area, where Ukraine regained important territory from the Russians.
Gains in the East, an offensive in the South
Ukrainian forces have advanced along two axes in the South, from Orikhiv toward Melitopol and from Velyka Novosilka towards Berdiansk, using much of the Western equipment they have received.
Ukrainian forces stormed Russian positions with the help of German Leopard 2 tanks and American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The ultimate goal is to cut off Russia’s supply route to Crimea and reach the Black Sea. Ukraine has only retaken a few small villages in the south so far, with gains slow and modest.
After Russia’s brutal assault on Bakhmut last winter, Kiev’s forces have slowly but surely taken back dozens of square kilometers in the eastern part of the country.
“We’re breaking through their defense here, and we’re hitting them well,” Groove says. According to him, the Russian mercenary group Wagner has returned to the area where it gained much of Russia’s advantage during the winter.
“Yes, Wagner is here as well,” he confirms. “They returned, changed their commanders, and returned here.”
Groove believes the group’s presence is partly intended to compensate for Russian personnel shortages. In his words, “[Russia] gathered troops from nearby areas and brought them here.”. Apparently, they don’t have much personnel left.
In spite of this, it is a slow grind – a war of attrition – and Ukrainian forces here are forced to rely more on brains than brawn due to a lack of advanced Western equipment.
“We change tactics constantly,” commander ‘Flint’ says. The game is similar to boxing. We start with the body and then switch to the head.”
The news reference is CNN