Ukraine does everything to stop the Russian push

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Lysychansk (Ukraine) (AFP) – A cluster munition case stood upright as a fence post not far from a team of Ukrainian medics rushing a bloodied soldier from the Eastern Front.

One of the doctors reassured the grimacing fighter that the tight tourniquet just above his knee did not mean he was about to lose part of his leg.

Another watched the smoke rise above one of the biggest battles in Russia’s methodical assault on its pro-Western neighbor and swore.

Some soldiers formed a circle of protection around the paramedics and wrote down the coordinates on their walkie-talkies for the next medical evacuation from the front.

“They are coming in waves,” volunteer fighter Mykola said of repeated Russian attempts to push south across a strategic river near a rural settlement called Bilogorivka.

“They tried over the weekend and we pushed them back. Now they’re trying again. It comes and goes. First they hit us, then we hit them.”

Pockmarked with holes

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv are signatories to a 2008 convention banning the use of bombs and rockets that spread small but deadly munitions over larger areas such as fields or city blocks.

Their use in Ukraine highlights the brutal and often indiscriminate nature of weapons falling from the sky on civilians and soldiers during the two and a half months of war.

Volunteer doctors play a major role in the extraction of wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the front Yasuyoshi CHIBAAFP

The cluster munition casing was near the last checkpoint leading to Bilogorivka, a village whose fall would help the Russians launch an assault on the administrative capital of eastern Ukraine, Kramatorsk.

Ukraine has deployed forces in what appears to be an increasingly desperate effort to hold the line.

Two besieged towns just east of Bilogorivka – Lysychansk and Severodonetsk – are a deserted but still contested war zone that the Russians could claim any day.

What is happening inside Bilogorivka is almost impossible to verify as the settlement and its surrounding roads are constantly shelled and bombarded with ammunition of various types.

But the earth shakes around her and the faces of the Ukrainian soldiers darken when the settlement is mentioned by name.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 60 people died when Russia bombed a school housing 90 villagers over the weekend.

Soldiers coming out of Bilogorivka were unable to confirm this claim because the school was in a northern area under Russian control.

“We got in and that’s how we got out,” said a volunteer fighter who uses the nom de guerre Leto (“summer”) beside a green van pockmarked with fist-sized holes of child.

Ukraine moved its heaviest weapons from one hot spot to another to block the Russian advance
Ukraine moved its heaviest weapons from one hot spot to another to block the Russian advance Yasuyoshi CHIBAAFP

“We are preparing to go back,” he said at a rear base used by some units in eastern Ukraine.

“What can you do – an order is an order. But we have no cover. We have no mortar guns. I don’t know how our unit will fight.”

“A little scary”

Rising military morale and a national outpouring of support for the army were instrumental in Ukraine’s ability to first defend kyiv and then block Russia’s advance east.

This may be harder to sustain as the death toll rises and Russia’s superior strength in numbers and military power begins to translate into lasting gains.

The fog of war and military secrecy make it difficult to estimate how many soldiers both sides lost in the battles.

But medics treating the wounded soldier near the cluster munition fired at the Bilogorivka checkpoint believe it is far higher than what Ukraine suffered at the start of a Kremlin-backed insurgency in 2014.

Volunteer doctors Andriy Kukhar and Yuriy Kozhumyaka admit they are unable to save many soldiers they help extract from the battlefield
Volunteer doctors Andriy Kukhar and Yuriy Kozhumyaka admit they are unable to save many soldiers they help extract from the battlefield Yasuyoshi CHIBAAFP

“Overall, if you look at the statistics, it’s a little scary,” volunteer medic Yuriy Kozhumyaka said after helping carry the injured soldier to a waiting ambulance a relatively safe distance from the shellfire.

“You have to be prepared for this. But it’s a shame,” said the 37-year-old art teacher turned doctor.

Fellow volunteer paramedic Andriy Kukhar sounded an equally grim note.

“A lot of people die,” said the 38-year-old trainee dentist. “There’s nothing we can do to help a lot of guys and they’re dying. But it’s war. We know that.”

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