A Ukrainian reconnaissance team squats in a modest home in a village near Mykolaiv. Machine guns and army knapsacks line the walls, sleeping bags lie rolled out on the floor, and a pot of soup warms on the stove.
Outside, the garden shed is stacked with Javelins and other shoulder-launched anti-tank weapons.
The soldiers smoking on the porch hardly notice the boom of incoming artillery shells landing some 10 kilometers away. Today is not their turn to fight on Ukraine’s southern front.
The owners of the house, who fled to Poland after the war broke out in late February, are happy with the knowledge that their village is now back in Ukrainian hands.
Senior Lieutenant Andrii Pidlisnyi was one of the soldiers that drove the Russians out two months ago. “At first, it was a defensive operation to stop them,” he says. “After that, we found some good places where we can make offensive operations and take back our territories. And now we’re doing that.”
Pidlisnyi commands a unit of 100 men tasked with identifying Russian positions, often by drone. They then call in the artillery.
One video shows Pidlisnyi sitting in a trench, using his drone to pinpoint Russian tank positions. “Call in the American gift,” he says over the radio.
Russian troops are now on the defensive in this part of the south — unlike in the east, where Ukrainian troops are the ones being forced to cede ground.
But here too, it is a slog. The aim for soldiers like Pidlisnyi is to take small strategic pockets, areas of high ground with views of occupied Ukrainian towns in the distance, from where further gains can be made.
“I’m not sure we will win it [by] the end of this year,” he says, referring to retaking Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine’s south. “Maybe not until the end of next year.”
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