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Fighting Wagner is like a ‘zombie movie’, says Ukrainian soldier

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Near Bakhmut, Ukraine


Southwest of the town of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers Andriy and Borisych live in a candle-lit bunker dug into the frozen earth. For several weeks, they have been facing hundreds of fighters belonging to the Russian private military contractor Wagner throwing themselves against the Ukrainian defenses.

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Disguised in a balaclava, Andriy recounts a seemingly endless firefight when they were attacked by a stream of Wagnerian fighters.

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“We fought for about 10 hours straight. And it wasn’t just like waves, it was unbroken. It was like they kept coming.

Their AK-47 rifles got so hot from the constant firing, Andriy says, that they had to change them over and over again.

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“There were about twenty soldiers on our side. And let’s say 200 on their side,” he says.

The Wagnerian method of warfare is to send in a first wave of attackers consisting mostly of raw recruits straight out of Russian prisons. They know little about military tactics and are poorly equipped. Most simply hope that if they survive their six-month contract they can go home rather than go back to a cell

“They make the group – let’s say from 10 soldiers – reach 30 meters, then they start digging to hold the position,” Andriy says of Wagner.

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Another group follows, he says, to claim another 30 yards. “That’s how, step by step, (Wagner) is trying to move on, while they’re losing a lot of people in the meantime.”

It was only when the first wave was exhausted or reduced that Wagner sent more experienced fighters, often from the flanks, with the aim of overrunning the Ukrainian positions.

Andriy says dealing with the assault was a scary and surreal experience.

“Our gunner was almost going mad, because he was shooting at them. And he said, I know I shot him, but he’s not falling. And then after a while, when he maybe bleeds, then he falls.

Andriy compares the battle to a scene from a zombie movie. “They climb over the corpse of their friends, step on them,” he said.

“It seems like it’s very, very likely that they were given drugs before the attack,” he says, a claim that CNN has not been able to independently verify.

Andriy and other members of his unit take shelter in a bunker southwest of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine on January 31, 2023.

Even after the first waves were cleared, the attack continued as Ukrainian defenders say they ran out of balls and found themselves surrounded.

“The problem is that they bypassed us. And that’s how they surrounded us. They were coming from the other side. We didn’t expect them to come from there.

“We fired to the last bullet, so we threw all the grenades we had and we were left with just me and a few guys. We were helpless in this situation.

They were lucky. Held until the last moment, say the Ukrainian fighters, Wagner withdrew at the end of the day.

Andriy’s account of Wagner’s approach matches that of a Ukrainian intelligence report obtained by CNN last week.

According to this report, if the Wagnerian forces managed to take position, artillery support allowed them to dig holes and consolidate their gains. According to Ukrainian interceptions, coordination between Wagner and the Russian military is often lacking.

CNN contacted Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin this week about allegations of abuse within the company’s ranks.

Prigozhin responded in a largely sarcastic statement via his news service, calling CNN an “open enemy” before insisting that Wagner is an “exemplary military organization that adheres to all necessary laws and rules of modern warfare.” “.

As he speaks to CNN, the fields above Andriy’s bunker reverberate with near-constant shelling. The groan of outgoing artillery is followed by a distant thud seconds later and a few miles away.

The chatter of small arms fire erupts as Ukrainian soldiers detect what they believe to be a Russian drone and attempt to bring it down.

The unit barely survived a recent assault by Wagner's troops, Andriy said.

Andriy’s unit says they captured a Wagner fighter, whose story is as tragic as Wagner’s tactics are primitive and brutal.

According to a recording of the man being interviewed, the man is an engineer but had taken up selling drugs to make money. He volunteered to join Wagner in the belief that it would clear his criminal record so his daughter would have less trouble following her dream of becoming a lawyer.

“And when did you realize you were just meat?” Andriy asks him.

“On the first combat mission. They took us to the front on December 28. They sent us last night.

“How many people were in the group? »

“Ten,” he replies.

Andriy says he told the engineer, “Obviously you know you will be killed (in battle). But you are afraid to fight for your freedom in your country.

“He said, ‘Yes, that’s true. We are afraid of Putin.’”

Andriy pitted Russian President Vladimir Putin against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who not long ago was the country’s leading comedian.

“Our advantage is that yes, we do, we can really choose the guy that the [Russians] call a clown. But as we can see, now this guy really is the leader of the free world, right now, on our planet.

Andriy, who comes from the southwestern city of Odessa and joined days after Russia invaded, says no matter how many more fighters are sent to storm their positions, they will resist. .

“Most of my guys are volunteers. They had (a) good business, they had (a) a good job, they had a good salary, but they came to fight for their country. And that makes a big difference,” he says.

“It’s a war for freedom. It’s not even a war between Ukraine and Russia. It’s a war between a regime and democracy.

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