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Waiting for weapons at the Luch front: “Even my commander does not have a decent machine gun”

Latest NewsWaiting for weapons at the Luch front: “Even my commander does not have a decent machine gun”

The first six soldiers who arrived in the detachment are resting, leaning against the wall. The first unties his shoelaces, the second finishes his cigarette, and the third wipes the sweat with a bandolier-black handkerchief. Behind him, two more appear, exhausted, with a bulky machine gun, and behind them, with a Kalashnikov assault rifle hanging in his right hand, the latter gets to the detachment, dragging his legs inside a vest from which hang all possible accessories: cartridges, magazines. , a walkie-talkie, a flashlight, rubber bands for making a tourniquet, four grenades and a knife at shoulder level, which today is used not to kill enemies, but to peel an apple. All six are silent, except for the tall one, who mutters and clears his throat until he vomits up blood, which he wipes with a black handkerchief.

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Leaning against the ruined wall of what was the doctor’s home, the dejected battalion epitomizes the brutality of the battlefield and the courage of an army that combines professionals with enthusiastic volunteers in the trenches. In a war in which people are being killed by drones and fired upon with rockets from bases hundreds of kilometers away, the soldiers and militias stationed in Luch are the front line of resistance that comes face to face every day. An army of soldiers like them is only seven kilometers away if it’s a good day.

The battalion, drenched in sweat and mud, slowly regains its speech. Call home first. Although the commanders forbid the troops to give their location, in conversation, most often he calls to say that everything is in order, but he is not even able to deceive the family, because the bombs sound every few minutes and slip through the line. Sometimes volleys of Russian artillery are heard at intervals of 30 minutes, and sometimes the ground shakes three times in less than a minute. Sometimes the pauses are long and disturbing. It’s hard to know if the enemy has retired or if the worst is coming. Sergei, who worked at the shipyard before the war, repaired ships and did not smoke, now eats his cigarettes.

Luch, the place they guard as an outpost, is a small town located 20 km from Nikolaev, considered the main parapet of Odessa, a large city in the south of the country, 135 kilometers away. With a population of half a million before the war, Nikolaev was an important economic engine of the country, living off three shipyards and a port on the Black Sea that fed the city. Paradoxes of history, many of the Russian ships that today launch missiles punishing Odessa and Nikolaev since February were made here. Just this week, with all eyes on Moscow, both cities celebrated Victory Day, receiving a barrage of missiles from Vladimir Putin that destroyed military installations and homes in equal measure. After more than two and a half months of attacks, the result is that Mykolaiv, located in the largest estuary in Europe, is without water, and the daily image of the city is thousands of people queuing in front of tankers.

In this part of the country the war is being waged step by step. Just 90 kilometers southeast of Nikolaev is Kherson, a city controlled by Russia. The ruble has been enforced in Kherson, Ukrainian flags have been replaced with Russian red-white-blue ones, and a Kremlin-imposed mayor has called for a referendum to join Russia immediately. And in the midst of both madness – Nikolaev without water and Kherson, which pays in rubles – the town of Luch and the detachment leaning against the wall that protects it.

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Until February 24, Luch was a quiet, tree-lined, clear-pavement town nestled between two pretty estuaries, centered on a school, two churches, and a playground. On both sides of the main street were simple two- and three-story houses, which the Russian artillery had turned into a heap of rubble, broken glass, smashed doors, crumbling walls, blown-up kitchens, and hallways engulfed in flames. Where children used to play, women shopped in the market, and peasants rode bicycles, it is now a ghost town where the undergrowth has begun to devour the swings. The old tree-lined streets are now a series of craters into which a car can crawl.

Two streets in a straight line and one to the left of the playground appears the first glimpse of life. We are talking about Andrei, a 62-year-old electrician who, after living in the basement for a week, finally raises his head like a frightened mole. Fed up with jam and preserves, he decided to go out into the garden and cook mushroom soup over a wood fire, the only thing he found that could flavor the water. “How are you, sir? Sometimes bad, sometimes worse,” he replies ironically.

Was this week tough? “See this hole? he says, pointing to a funnel in his garden. She showed up three days ago. And that other one, and that one, and that one over there, ”he points out, not getting up from his chair at each bomb strike. “If you want to visit them, be careful of mines and stay on the trail,” he clarifies. To explain the level of destruction, Andrey hesitantly shows a jug in which he used to heat milk, an iron bowl that has been shattered into pieces by fragments from the last shell. “The Russians killed more than the Nazis when they passed through here.” The background music of the conversation is the explosions of shells. Many weeks later, Andrei learned to distinguish even the model of the projectile, “that is, a cluster bomb. This longer sound is a gradation,” he says.

And why doesn’t he leave? “Because this is my house, my neighbors, my cats…” explains the electrician with a log in his hand to build a fire. Pride prevents him from admitting that many people from the villages do not want to leave for cities where they do not know anyone, even if their lives are in danger, so as not to end up on alms in other shelters surrounded by strangers. Placed for several weeks in the basement, they prefer their city.

Andrei, who does not want to give his last name, seems to be the only inhabitant of Luch until he invites a journalist to see his new house – a small shed that looks like a cellar for tools. But the place contains a secret, namely 30. When Andrei opens the door, she discovers a staircase leading to a cold, dark basement, lit only by a couple of light bulbs from a generator. 10 meters underground, silence and humidity are thick. At the end of the stairs is a hallway where jars of jam are kept, and then a curtain, which Andrey pulls aside to reveal a dozen elderly people waiting in cots. They don’t talk, they don’t pray, they don’t move, they just wait. “I knew a few words of Spanish,” says the most enterprising old man, an old man with gray hair and a mustache, happy to see a foreigner who is not Russian: “Long live Spain, paella, sangria,” and laughs generously. to himself before returning to the silence of the wake. In the next room, 20 other neighbors have been doing the same for several days. Expect. From time to time the earth trembles from explosions. “We used to have animals: pigs, chickens, rabbits… but they ran away with artillery fire,” Andrei says on the surface, explaining the colorless water in his soup.

“Where are the weapons that Europe sends?”

Morale among the troops is not the highest. After more than two months of war, patriotic enthusiasm gave way to the wounded, the blood, the disabled, the evacuees, and the thousands of militias originally signed up to fight against Russia, who found every day how hard it was to sleep underground in a warehouse. surrounded by worms, cans of canned food, explosives, cans of tuna and a blue and yellow flag. “Here I sleep,” says the soldier Sergei, pointing to such a place underground.

Sergei, who wears a khaki suit a few sizes too big, believes that Russia “is using old weapons, but when they come with new ones, it will be terrible,” he says, despondent after a hard day at the front. “Where are the weapons that Europe sends? They won’t come here. Look, my weapon is an old saucepan,” he says of the 25-year-old Kalashnikov assault rifle hanging around his neck. “Even my commander doesn’t have a decent machine gun,” he says, pointing to the boss leading a group of heroes protecting a pile of rubble, a playground, a school, and two churches.

Next to the cold bunk every night, Sergei is an image of fear. His eyes water as he details the day after day on the front lines. So he tries to change the subject by showing the journalist some pictures from his past life at the shipyard on his mobile phone. Then he moves his finger on the phone with such speed that when the photos of boats, iron and welding end, a photograph of a woman appears, then some parents and family … and a thick silence returns, one in which no one is calm.

The Ukrainian authorities forbid giving details about the number of people, weapons, so some details have been omitted and some names have been changed.

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