Trial by fire: Ukraine’s war turns into a grueling artillery conflict | Ukraine

The call came around midday on Wednesday. There was “chemical poisoning” after the explosion and patients needed to have samples taken.

Fears of a Russian chemical weapons attack continue to haunt Ukraine Almost since the war began, when volunteer paramedics in Sloviansk wore the old gas masks and plastic clothes that were their only protection, they wondered if that was the case.

They set out anyway, taking personal risks after weeks of driving through the bombing to repair injured men and women in one of the fiercest sections of the front line of combat.

“We received a call that there was a yellow-brown cloud after the strike and yellow-white scales in the air like snow. Phet, the medic who asked to go only by his nickname, referring to his peacetime role as head of a small town,” said the soldiers at once. They have trouble breathing.” He was worried that he would be captured and tortured by Russian forces who were a few miles away.

The ambulance team heard the alarm and then went to trap the suffocating soldiers. Like the forces they support, they complement limited, outdated equipment with courage and determination.

Private Vlad in a hospital in Slovensk
Private Vlad in a hospital in Slovensk. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

After disembarking their patient, who had convulsions in the ambulance, they were told that the gas was not from chemical weapons but from a chemical plant hit by Russian munitions.

But if the fear of a certain horror is suspended for a moment, the other horror of this war draws closer to this city in the Donbass, less than 20 miles from the front line.

“You can win one battle, then the next day, there are more troops, they will be sent back to the same place,” said Vlad, a veteran who signed up to fight again after the February invasion and is now sick in the Sloviansk clinic. He requested that his last name not be disclosed because his family was in areas occupied by Russian forces and he feared reprisals. His cheek shook as he talked about his children, and his fight was personal and patriotic.

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This corner of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions is one of the few regions where the Moscow army is still constantly gaining territory, even if they continue to advance at a snail’s pace and recent attempts to bridge a strategically important river ended in defeat.

Ukraine followed up its victory at Kyiv by pushing Russian artillery back from within the fire range of the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv. big general He said this week Moscow’s forces have been put on the defensive on several other major fronts, including along the Black Sea coast, and ministers are beginning to talk of an offensive to reclaim territory lost in 2014.

But on the rolling steppes here, geography deprives the Ukrainian army of some of the advantages that allowed its troops to humble the Moscow forces around the capital. The soldiers rarely got close enough to fight head-on or deploy the Western anti-tank missiles that helped them save Kyiv. Instead, their cannons face off across vast open fields, dug into labyrinths of trenches that would have come from the last century, pounding each other with shells while planes occasionally shriek overhead.

Many Russian rifles fire farther than those fired by the Ukrainian army at the start of the war, so while they wait for Western weapons with longer ranges—such as the M777 howitzers the United States has sent in and are just beginning to reach the front line—they must. They live under constant bombardment.

An apartment building in Sloviansk was destroyed on May 5
An apartment building in Sloviansk was destroyed on May 5. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

“The sites where the Ukrainian army resides are bombarded with artillery, missiles and air constantly, every day, so it gets to the point where there is nothing to hold on to at these points, and that’s part of the problem,” Serhiy said. Haidai, head of the Luhansk region’s military administration.

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“We are fighting against tank attacks, but we have no possibility to counter artillery. That is why unfortunately we have to retreat. We have been held for three months, and the Russians have not been able to cross this small area. I hope that the Ukrainian army will still retain these positions – and with the weapons we are waiting for – it can So launch a counterattack.”

Humiliated by defeat near Kyiv, Vladimir Putin instead doubled down on his force in the Battle of the eastern Donbass region, where proxy forces held territory captured in 2014 for eight years, claiming “independence” from Kyiv that provided a pretext for a broader invasion.

Svetlana Druzhenko, a child trauma specialist and volunteer manager, said the harsh bombing they launched in pursuit of this goal is shown in the type and scale of injuries treated at the Sloviansk clinic. Prijov Mobile HospitalWhich treated victims of chemical poisoning.

She spent the first month of the war evacuating the wounded from the fronts near the capital. “In Kyiv and the Kiev region, we have never seen such a large number of wounded soldiers as here,” she said. “Here we also see more serious injuries: torn arms and legs, or we have to amputate, and we get a lot of head injuries. The main injuries here are from explosions. Near Kyiv we also saw more gunshot injuries.”

Every day they collect victims from the battlefronts or civilians from bombed homes, work to stabilize them and send them to safer hospitals. They know they are being targeted, because the Ukrainian government says more than 500 healthcare centers have been bombed.

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Abandoned health facility on the outskirts of Slovansk hit by an air strike in late April
An abandoned health facility on the outskirts of Slovensk was hit by an air strike in late April. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

Their ambulances – they are raising money for armor – have been bombed, they have been tracked by Russian planes, and the towns where they are stationed have been repeatedly bombed.

Hayday said some Western weapons that Ukraine hopes will turn the tide of the war are beginning to arrive on the battlefield, including M777 rifles, snap-bars and more anti-tank Javelins.

The head of the National Guard unit that helps protect paramedics this week displayed the remains of a Russian drone Orlan had been sending to Kyiv for analysis. He said that his fighters shot down the plane, which cost about 100,000 dollars, with an American Stinger missile.

Hayday said the flow of weapons was still not enough, but he hoped to speed up shipments, and he drew courage from the Ukrainian army’s continued skill in defeating Russia when artillery was not stopping the troops from retreating.

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Last week Russia I tried twice to build a pontoon bridge To bring tanks, guns, shot for the siege of Severodonetsk. It was first bombed by Ukraine, which led to great losses in weapons and lives, and then Russian engineers began again in the same place.

“What is interesting about this bridge is Russian tactics: they built it, they tried to bring weapons, we got them, they built it again and we got it again,” he said. “It shows that they are trying to win not with military intelligence but with the power of numbers.”

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