Ukrainian soldiers said that during the attack on Bakhmut, Wagner gunmen kept rushing towards them, wave after wave.
Southwest of the city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, two soldiers Andriy and Borisych hold on to a semi-submersible fortification. Over the past several weeks, they have confronted hundreds of gunmen from the private security firm Wagner, often described as a group of Russian “mercenaries”.
Wearing a tight headscarf that left only his eyes and mouth open, Andriy recounted their unit’s seemingly endless struggle, as Wagner’s forces attacked for control of Bakhmut.
“We fought for about 10 hours straight. Wagner did not attack in waves, but carried out massively, continuously, without interruption, as if they were not stopping,” he said.
According to Andriy, their AK-47s fired repeatedly until their barrels turned red, forcing them to constantly switch guns. “Our unit has about 20 soldiers, while their side has up to 200 people,” he said.
The Wagner Group was founded in 2014 and has about 8,000 employees as of April 2022. When Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine, Wagner increased its recruitment of members, including many inmates in Russian prisons.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russian society gives these prisoners the opportunity to fight in Ukraine, in return for which they will be pardoned after completing a six-month contract to serve in “special military operations”.
“They went forward, unafraid, and looked the enemy straight in the eye,” Prigozhin said on January 5. “These are born warriors and they realize it. There’s a conflict going on and they have to defend their homeland.”
Western military experts say that Wagner’s dominant mode of combat is what recruits recruits from prisons rush forward in the first wave of attacks. These rookies are mostly tactically poor and not well equipped.
“The first group of about 10 soldiers advanced 30 meters to occupy the bridgehead position,” Andriy described how Wagner advanced on the battlefield. “After that, another group continued to advance for another 30 meters. Step by step, Wagner tried to move forward, at the expense of many lives in the process.”
Only when the first wave of troops was exhausted or empty did Wagner send in more experienced fighters to attack, often from the flanks, in an attempt to capture Ukrainian positions.
Andriy said that facing such attacks was a terrifying and unprecedented experience. “Our machine gunner almost went crazy because he kept shooting, but they didn’t stop,” he said.
Even if the first wave was stopped, the next layer continued to advance, until the Ukrainian defenders were almost out of ammunition and surrounded.
“The problem is they’re swarming around us. That’s how they surround us. They come from directions we don’t expect,” Andriy said. “We shot to the last bullet, threw out all the grenades we had, leaving only me and a few others. We were really helpless in such a situation.”
But they were lucky. Ukrainian soldiers held out until the last moment. At the end of the day, Wagner’s army retreated.
Andriy’s account coincided with a confrontation in intelligence reports from Ukraine that CNN obtained last week.
According to this report, if Wagner forces capture a Ukrainian position, Russian artillery in the backline will fire support so that they can dig shelters and fortify the front line.
From information on eavesdropping on the enemy’s communications, the Ukrainian military said that the ability to cooperate in combat between Wagner and the Russian regular army is often lacking.
In an interview with CNN last week, leader Wagner Prigozhin insists his company is an “exemplary military organization that adheres to all the necessary rules in combat”.
Andriy’s unit said they took a gunman Wagner prisoner and extracted some useful information from him.
According to the recording of the interrogation, the man is an engineer who was sentenced to prison for drug trafficking. He volunteered to join Wagner in the belief that his convictions could be cleared so that his daughter would have less trouble pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer.
“They sent us to the front lines on December 28 and we were told to attack last night,” the prisoner said.
“How many people are in the group?” Andriy continued to ask. “10,” replied the man.
Andriy, who is from the southwestern Ukrainian city of Odesa and joined the fighting just days after Russia launched its military operation in February last year, said that regardless of how many troops are sent from on the other side of the line, they will still resist.
“Most of my teammates are volunteers. They have good businesses, stable jobs, high salaries, but they come to fight for their homeland. And they make a big difference.” , he decided. “This is a fight for freedom.”
Vu Hoang (Theo CNN)