Ukraine one year after

The Ukrainian forward logistics team is hard at work in Chasiv Jar, a small town 10 miles west of the Bakhmut battlefield. In the frigid air and under constant artillery shelling the soldiers dig trenches into the ice-covered ground, set up mobile toilets, cut wood for the stove and a camp kitchen, lace up the generators.

The basement of an empty 5-story Soviet-era apartment building is hastily turned into a dormitory, with an operations room and a storehouse of supplies and ammunition. “More men and tanks are coming soon” says “Chicago”, the team leader. “There’s gonna be a lot of fighting around here in the next days and weeks”. A medical stabilization unit for the injured is also being set up in the nearby hospital, which was evacuated long ago.

It’s bad news for the few residents left in the village, mostly drunkards and old Russian-speaking folks like Ludmyla, who wanders by carrying a can of water and a garbage bag: an incongruous appearance among the debris littering the street, the missing chunks of walls, the stray dogs and the shattered windows.

“I am scared” she shouts angrily at the soldiers. “You must go away! If you settle here we will become a target. We don’t mind the Russians. It’s all politics. You should stop this crazy war and make peace!” She is silenced by the sudden hiss of incoming Grad rockets, immediately followed by the roar of the Ukrainian artillery fired from the inner courtyard of a deserted concrete apartment block.

Both sides seem to shell randomly, smashing empty houses, abandoned warehouses, schools, shops and gas stations: nevertheless they can inflict heavy casualties to the troops in the field. World war III and nuclear armageddon maybe well on the way, but here on the Donbas front men are stuck in a static or slow moving war of attrition that can last for years, holding defensive trenches, advancing through the rubble of derelict villages, engaging in close combat, conquering a farmhouse, a country lane or a bridge and then retreating into the muddy dug holes in the back lines.

I don’t know if the new arsenal offered to Ukraine will alter the military balance and break the standoff. Leopard 2 tanks, air defense systems and fighter planes will certainly make the difference. But – at least for now – the war is downgraded to a brutal local fight around Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Kherson, with sporadic missile strikes on the country’s cities and facilities.

Tomorrow, however, could be another story: the long anticipated Russian spring offensive could take place at any time, dragging Ukraine and Europe into a wider and even more devastating conflict.



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